The County Voice

Tree Mortality: The Cycle of Life Interrupted

As a long-time rancher, I know that there is a cycle to life and that no creature lives forever. Animals, people, we all have a limited time on this earth. The same is true of trees. Although some species can live for hundreds of years, even trees eventually die. But now in forests up and down the state, we are seeing the early and disastrous death of millions of trees. The latest estimates indicate we have 29 million dead or dying trees in California.

You’ve probably heard about this, but for those of you who haven’t, trees under stress after four years of drought can’t protect themselves from bark beetles and other pests and diseases. It’s not that different from people really. If you are generally healthy, a virus or other illness is a minor inconvenience. If you are weak, stressed and already ill, another health issue can be life-threatening. In my own Amador County, there are already whole stands of dead trees and many more are on the verge of dying. In Mariposa County, the epicenter of the problem, Cal Fire data indicates that approximately 54 percent of trees in the county are dead and that number will increase to roughly 80 percent by next year.

Multiply that by hundreds of thousands of acres and millions of trees and you’ll understand the magnitude of the problem we are facing statewide. This year’s weather will help a little bit, but it’s too little too late. The experts tell us that several million more trees will die regardless of the weather. The dead and dying trees pose two types of danger. They can fall on people, property, roads and other critical infrastructure, and all that dead timber provides tons of dry fuel, just waiting for a lighting strike or some other source of ignition to become the next huge forest fire.

As local officials, there’s not a lot we can do about the weather or bark beetles. But we can influence our response to this crisis and help prepare our communities and our forests. Late last year Governor Brown proclaimed a state of emergency over tree mortality and formed a task force to deal with the issue.

CSAC and several individual counties are represented on the task force. There is so much to be done, but I am encouraged by the initial work of the task force and the Governor’s commitment of cap-and-trade funding to help jumpstart the process. There are monthly meetings and a process in place to share resources, ideas, information, set priorities and take action. We have to reduce the threat these dead trees pose to our forests and our citizens.

To that end, I encourage county representatives to attend CSAC’s next Regional Meeting on March 24 in Redding, Shasta County, in which tree mortality and overall forest health will be the main topics. We’ll have several experts on hand to discuss these issues and how you can help the task force do its job. This is a monumental problem. But we are One Family, 58 Strong, and by pulling together, we can make a difference this year and lay a solid foundation for what is sure to be a long process.

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