The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service released data this week from its latest federal tree mortality count which found that an estimated 18 million trees have died in California wildlands and private property in the past year, many of them victims of recent droughts and bark beetle infestations. The Sacramento Bee’s reported that in total, an estimated 147 million trees, many Sierra conifers, have died in California since the start of the state’s drought years in 2010.
The death toll comes as the state struggles with an elevated fire risk, some of it fueled by unhealthy forests. The last two years have seen some of the most devastating wildfires in state history, including November’s Camp Fire in Paradise, triggering calls from the Trump administration for more thinning of California forests–though it was unclear if the President actually understood the dynamics of forest management or if he was trying to take political shots at California’s Democratic lawmakers.
Why This Matters: Although Cal Fire director Thom Porter explained that while tree mortality actually slowed in 2018, the loss of “18 million trees [is] an indication that the forests of California are still under significant stress.” California, as well as most other Western states, will have to grapple with forest management practices to accommodate a swiftly changing climate that’s dryer and hotter. California’s new governor, Gavin Newson, has proposed $1 billion in the coming years to prevent wildfires, which is an important step. However, while wildfire prevention is certainly necessary, it’s even more critical to slow global climate change which is making wildfires so massive and deadly. If we fail to act, paying to fight these fires will become fiscally unsustainable.