Dying trees throughout Kings Canyon National Park

102 MILLION TREES

 

Bark beetles are a natural part of the forest ecosystem in California. In a healthy forest, most trees attacked by these beetles defeat the infestation by robust sap production. However, persistent drought throughout the California Sierras has weakened the trees, leaving millions of them susceptible to bark beetle attack. Quite simply a weakened tree does not produce enough sap, their natural defense agent. Under these circumstances bark beetles, the forest's native predator, have flourished killing millions of trees along the way. An estimated 29 million trees died in 2015 alone from this event.

Even with a return of normal rainfall, it is estimated that up to 100 million trees are likely to perish over the next few years, ultimately wiping out 30% to 60% of the forest’s canopy. These dying trees signify the loss of a natural resource, and raise the specter of catastrophic forest fires that could be aided by the excess of fuel on the forest floor. 

Currently, and with good reason, agencies at all levels of government are focused on removing dead trees that present a threat to public health and safety. Unfortunately, this will leave the vast majority of the trees killed from this epidemic, in place. We raise the question, should this material be left as fuel for some future wildfire, or be used in a productive way to help teach, employ, inspire?

The accelerated decay of trees in the Sierras due to the drought and beetle infestation is illustrated below.

Photos: Margarita Gordus, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife

Photos: Margarita Gordus, CA Department of Fish and Wildlife

 

The Federal and State governments, in partnerships with local agencies, have been fighting the bark beetle for years, but only recently have begun to document the event as it sweeps through the eastern portion of California. Depicted below are some of their findings.

Bark Beetle Tunnels | photo by CAL FIRE

Bark Beetle Tunnels | photo by CAL FIRE

Dead Trees in the Sierras | photo by CAL FIRE

Dead Trees in the Sierras | photo by CAL FIRE

Interactive map

Through aerial photography surveying, CAL FIRE has pinpointed thousands of locations of dying trees through the Sierras. They have compiled these data into a map, as shown below.  

Click Here to visit CAL FIRE's Tree Mortality Viewer to navigate through the affected regions 

Tree Mortality Viewer by CAL FIRE

Tree Mortality Viewer by CAL FIRE

Video on epidemic

In an effort to increase awarness about this issue, public service annoucments have also been created. One of them is shown below.