Senator Tom Berryhill (R-Twain Harte) submitted a request to Governor Jerry Brown and California Office of Emergency Services Director, Mark Ghilarducci, to declare a State of Emergency because of the threat presented by the increasing numbers of dead and dying trees in rural areas.
“Drought, invasive species, and the history of mismanaged federal, state, and other forestlands have placed California in a situation where high numbers of dead or dying trees are providing fuel that is escalating the intensity of wildfires throughout the state,” said the senator. “This situation threatens our ability to conserve water, jeopardizes air quality and carbon reduction as well.”
While the Governor’s office has recognized the drought as contributing to wildfire danger, the administration has only recently begun to acknowledge the implication of tree mortality.
Local resources are no longer enough to address the overwhelming increase in dead or dying trees throughout the state.
A U.S. Forest Service survey of about 3.6 million acres of land covering the lower western foothills of the central and southern Sierra, from the Sacramento area south to Visalia, found more than 6 million dead trees across roughly 526,000 acres.
Tree mortality has reached endemic levels in many areas. Approximately 54 percent of all trees in Mariposa County are dead or in decayed state, with an expected increase to 72 percent of all trees this year.
Even if California experiences normal or higher-than-normal levels of precipitation this winter, the disaster would continue due to the high numbers of dead trees that would fall. Falling trees pose a problem for power lines and a public safety risk to communities and people who visit California’s forests.
Mariposa, Madera, and Fresno County Boards of Supervisors are just a few of the recent counties in the area covering the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests to issue resolutions stating that the level of tree mortality “has created extraordinary threats to public safety,” and “exceeds their functional capabilities.”
State recognition of the disaster would draw much needed attention to the problem and begin the process of getting resources, both state and federal to the affected counties.