Matt Stevens and Corina Knoll
A lethal combination of drought, heat and voracious bark beetles has killed 26 million trees in the Sierra Nevada over the last eight months -- an alarming finding for a state already raging with wildfires fueled by desiccated landscapes.
The dire estimate offered Wednesday by federal officials brings the loss of trees since 2010 to at least 66 million, a number that is expected to increase considerably throughout the year, despite an average winter of rain and snow that brought some relief to urban Californians.
“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
U.S. Forest officials say 40 million trees died between 2010 and late 2015. In October, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency and formed a tree-mortality task force to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of fallen and dying trees.
The latest number was reached after a May survey of six southern Sierra counties: Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Tulare.