What do you think 102 million dead trees mean for wildfire danger in California?


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The number of dead trees in California’s drought-stricken forests has risen dramatically to more than 102 million in what officials described as an unparalleled ecological disaster that heightens the danger of massive wildfires and damaging erosion.

Officials said they were alarmed by the increase in dead trees, which they estimated to have risen by 36 million since the government’s last survey in May. The U.S. Forest Service, which performs such surveys of forest land, said Friday that 62 million trees have died this year alone….

Scientists say five years of drought are to blame for much of the destruction. The lack of rain has put California’s trees under considerable stress, making them more susceptible to the organisms, such as beetles, that can kill them. Unusually high temperatures have added to the trees’ demand for water, exacerbating an already grim situation…

Although California enjoyed a wet start to the water year in Northern California, the central and southern parts of the state remain locked in what federal officials classify as “extreme” and “exceptional” drought.

Sooner or later – hopefully, the former – folks will realize that climate change means more than a couple paragraphs about global warming. Distorted climates produce untypical environments, often ending in disaster.

47 thoughts on “What do you think 102 million dead trees mean for wildfire danger in California?

  1. Gonners says:

    Dieback from Fusarium fungus (carried by southeast Asian polyphagous shot hole borers), is also expected to kill an additional 26.8 million trees across Southern California in the next few years, which will be almost 40 percent of the trees from Los Angeles to the Nevada border and south to Mexico. https://www.wired.com/2017/05/trees-will-die-will/
    In 2013, after the emerald ash borer killed a 100 million trees across 15 states, US Forest Service research determined that areas with ash borer infestations and concomitant loss in tree cover had 6.8 additional deaths per year per 100,000 adults from respiratory disease, and 16.7 deaths from cardiovascular disease. This suggests the loss of 100 million dead trees – roughly 3 percent of tree cover on average – killed 21,193 people.
    See also “The Relationship Between Trees and Human Health” http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(12)00804-5/fulltext

  2. McLeod says:

    California Emergency Services Director Mark Ghilarducci tells the U.S. Forest Service chief that the agency’s failure to pay the state $18 million for fighting wildfires on federal lands last year may force California to stop responding to fires in national forests. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-wildfire-costs-20170707-story.html
    FYI: the USFS is known for letting wildfires get out of control before turning to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for assistance http://calfire.ca.gov/about/about

    • McLeod says:

      “Beyond the concepts of ‘land management’ are real people, sacrifice” http://nmpoliticalreport.com/352495/beyond-the-concepts-of-land-management-are-real-people-sacrifice/ “…In the History Grove in northern New Mexico, many of these trees have stood for hundreds of years. They’ve presided over the warp and woof of changes in New Mexico’s history—the movement of tribes, the arrival of the Spanish, creation of the Land Grants, generations of herders and cowboys and the establishment of parks and public lands. There’s another story there now, too.
      There isn’t a proper way to thank any of the fire crews, especially the Granite Mountain Hotshots, but those ponderosa pines that make the air smell like warm vanilla are still standing today because of the men and women who put themselves—their smartest plans, their tools and labor, their teamwork and their hearts—between the flames and the trees.”

  3. No trees/No fires says:

    “The West is in the midst of another intense wildfire season. Recent weeks have seen dangerous fires from Nevada to Montana; a state of emergency has been declared in Arizona. With President Donald Trump proposing to cut the Forest Service’s firefighting budget by nearly $300 million, the question of how to manage and fund wildfire suppression on public lands has again reared its head.
    Over the past decade, as wildfire season has lengthened and fires have grown more severe, firefighting has claimed more and more of the Forest Service’s funds, accounting for 56 percent of its overall budget in 2016. Conservatives in Congress have long tried to push legislation that, though ostensibly geared toward wildfire risk reduction, would benefit the timber industry. And with a Republican majority and an administration intent on rolling back environmental review processes, such legislation may gain more traction this time around.”
    http://www.hcn.org/articles/wildfire-will-this-be-the-year-that-congress-fixes-wildfire-funding

  4. Big Ernie says:

    “The New Normal: California Forest Fires Have Doubled in Size : This Year 3,449 Wildfires Have Already Consumed 92,439 Acres” http://www.independent.com/news/2017/jul/13/california-forest-fires-have-doubled-size/
    Currently more than 50 large, active wildfires are burning across the U.S. West as forecasters warn that hot, dry conditions could persist, creating tinderbox conditions. Red flag warnings were issued for Northern California and parts of other states, where the National Weather Service said temperatures could reach above 90 degrees Fahrenheit 32 degrees Celsius) and winds to gust 50 miles (80 km) per hour. Flames have charred more than twice as much land in California so far in 2017 compared with a year earlier, according to Cal Fire. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-wildfires-idUSKBN1A00SF

  5. Mike says:

    Trailer: Santa Fe-filmed firefighting epic ‘Only the Brave’ (Santa Fe New Mexican) http://www.santafenewmexican.com/news/blogs/trailer-santa-fe-filmed-firefighting-epic-only-the-brave/article_21b70216-6cc8-11e7-b1f2-4b015a86e447.html
    “19: The True Story of the Yarnell Hill Fire” (Outside) https://www.outsideonline.com/1926426/19-true-story-yarnell-hill-fire “The Granite Mountain Hotshots Yarnell Fire Investigation | No Exit (GQ) http://www.gq.com/long-form/no-exit State of Arizona Serious Accident Investigation report http://www.iawfonline.org/Yarnell_Hill_Fire_report.pdf Note: “Key evidence in Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy never provided to official investigators” http://www.investigativemedia.com/key-evidence-in-yarnell-hill-fire-tragedy-never-provided-to-official-investigators/
    See also http://www.wildfirelessons.net/home

  6. परिणाम says:

    July 28: “The West is ablaze as the summer wildfire season has gotten off to an intense start. More than 37,000 fires have burned more than 5.2 million acres nationally since the beginning of the year, with 47 large fires burning across nine states as of Friday.” http://www.climatecentral.org/news/western-wildfire-season-off-to-blazing-start-21661
    “The relatively early activity is quickly becoming the norm, with rising temperatures making the fire season longer than it used to be. The warming fueled by greenhouse gases is also helping to create more and larger fires as it dries out more vegetation that acts as fuel for fires.
    This new fire situation means that western states need to be begin to rethink how they prepare for and combat fires, as well as how fire-prone land is developed.
    Five large fires (those of 1,000 acres or more) are currently raging across California, the largest of which is the Detwiler fire near Yosemite National Park, which has burned more than 80,000 acres since it ignited on July 16. That fire is now 75 percent contained, but it destroyed dozens of buildings, including 63 homes.”
    A 2016 Climate Central analysis showed that the annual number of large fires has tripled since the 1970s and that the amount of land they burn is six times higher than it was four decades ago. http://www.climatecentral.org/news/western-wildfires-climate-change-20475

  7. WUI says:

    “Fires are torching Montana, and the money is running out” https://apnews.com/e028a78adf4e48bda4a094c0dbc1b4c8/Fires-are-torching-Montana,-and-the-money-is-running-out Montana’s worst fire season in years is expected to scorch the drought-stricken landscape well into fall, long after the state’s firefighting reserves run out thanks to politicians diverting millions of dollars to fill a budget shortfall. There is only $12 million left of the $63 million in the firefighting fund in June, and the state is burning through that at a rate of $1.5 million a day, state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation director John Tubbs said Tuesday.
    Satellite photo taken August 1, 2017 showing smoke produced by wildfires in western Montana and Northeastern Idaho. The red dots represent heat detected by a sensor on the satellite. http://wildfiretoday.com/2017/08/02/fires-in-western-montana-still-very-active/

    • Cassandra says:

      “Forget Flash Floods. Flash Droughts Are Even More Terrifying.” http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2017/08/climatedesk-forget-flash-floods-flash-droughts-are-even-more-terrifying/ “The frequency of rapid-onset droughts is expected to increase as the planet warms. A recent study focusing on China found that flash droughts more than doubled in frequency there between 1979 and 2010. Droughts like these are closely linked to climate change. As temperatures rise, abnormally dry conditions across the western United States are already becoming more common and more intense. And as evaporation rates speed up, rainfall becomes more erratic, and spring snowmelt dries up earlier each year (see links).
      Future summers in North Dakota are expected to be even hotter and drier, on par with the present-day weather of south Texas” (The state of North Dakota borders Canada and Texas is over a thousand miles south)

  8. Now will be then later says:

    “The Pacific Northwest’s fiery week warns of hotter times to come” (Grist Aug 4, 2017) http://grist.org/cities/the-pacific-northwests-fiery-week-warns-of-hotter-times-to-come/ “…the smoke in places like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver was so thick it changed the weather. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, smoke even kept flights from taking off. (From the air, you couldn’t even see the ground.) In Seattle on Thursday, the air quality was worse than in Beijing.
    Welcome to climate change, 2017 edition.”

  9. Airy-fairy says:

    “What’s killing trees during droughts? Scientists have new answers.” (National Science Foundation) https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=242634&org=NSF&from=news A study published Monday in Nature Ecology & Evolution reveals how trees succumb to drought, improving models used to predict climate change.
    “Droughts are simultaneously happening over large regions of the globe, affecting forests with very different trees. The discovery of how droughts cause mortality in trees, regardless of the type of tree, allows us to make better regional-scale predictions of droughts’ effects on forests.”
    How trees respond to drought is important for models used to predict climate change. Plants take up a large portion of the carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere — fewer trees means more CO2. Sudden large-scale changes in plant populations, such as the tree die-offs observed worldwide in recent decades, could affect the rate at which climate changes.

  10. Hope says:

    “Orange is the new green: How orange peels revived a Costa Rican forest” (Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-08/puww-oit082217.php
    In the mid-1990s, 1,000 truckloads of orange peels and orange pulp were purposefully unloaded onto a barren pasture in a Costa Rican national park. Today, that area is covered in lush, vine-laden forest.
    A team led by Princeton University researchers surveyed the land 16 years after the orange peels were deposited. They found a 176 percent increase in aboveground biomass — or the wood in the trees — within the 3-hectare area (7 acres) studied. Their results are published in the journal Restoration Ecology.
    This story, which involves a contentious lawsuit, showcases the unique power of agricultural waste to not only regenerate a forest but also to sequester a significant amount of carbon at no cost.

  11. JP says:

    The Suomi NPP satellite’s Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument captured a look at the smoke obscuring much of the Pacific Northwest on September 05, 2017. (NASA) https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/goddard/2017/smoke-obscures-much-of-the-pacific-northwest “Wildfires pollute more than previously thought. Particle pollution from wildfires, long known for containing soot and other fine particles known to be dangerous to human health, is much worse than previously thought, a new study shows. Naturally burning timber and brush from wildfires release dangerous particles into the air at a rate three times as high as levels known by the EPA, researchers at Georgia Tech found in a report that was released in May 2017.
    “Wildfire Smoke: A Guide for Public Health Officials” (May 2016) https://www3.epa.gov/airnow/wildfire_may2016.pdf “The previous EPA data had been based on plume samples taken in controlled burns ignited by forestry professionals. Measuring naturally occurring plumes so thoroughly, from the sky, directly in the thick of a wildfire had not been possible before this study.”
    “Dramatic satellite video shows fire and smoke from roaring blazes across more than a million acres of the U.S. West : Smoke from the fires appears to have blown all the way across North America and more than half way across the Atlantic” (Discover, September 4, 2017) http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/imageo/2017/09/04/satellite-video-shows-fire-and-smoke-from-roaring-western-blazes/#.Wa7UHtOGNgp current U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality map and animation @ https://www.airnow.gov/ – also interactive “Fires: Current Conditions” for more information https://airnow.gov/index.cfm?action=topics.smoke_wildfires (scroll down to “More Fire Tools” for additional links)

  12. Moe says:

    “Wildfire crews forced to shift tactics due to billions of dead trees” (CBS News 9/7/17) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/western-wildfires-billions-of-dead-trees-fire-crews-shift-tactics/
    “About 6.3 billion dead trees are still standing in 11 western states, up from 5.8 billion five years ago, according to U.S. Forest Service statistics compiled for The Associated Press. Since 2000, two dozen species of beetles have killed trees on nearly 85,000 square miles in the Western U.S. That’s an area about the size of Utah. Beetles have killed nearly 80,000 square miles of forest in Western Canada. The outbreak stems from a combination of factors, including crowded, aging forests, drought-stressed trees and warmer temperatures that allow the pests to survive the winters, researchers say.”

  13. Bait-and-switch Inc. says:

    “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday directed all land managers and park superintendents to be more aggressive in cutting down small trees and underbrush to prevent wildfires as the smoke-choked West faces one of the worst fire seasons in a decade. In a memo, Zinke said the Trump administration will take a new approach and work proactively to prevent fires “through aggressive and scientific fuels reduction management” to save lives, homes and wildlife habitat.
    Zinke’s memo did not call for new spending, but he said federal officials “must be innovative” and use all tools available to prevent and fight fires. “Where new authorities are needed,” he added, “we will work with our colleagues in Congress to craft management solutions that will benefit our public lands for generations to come.” (example: https://ssl.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000Ir62eLFJYaM/s/750/750/joelrogers-com0807.jpg )
    …The Forest Service and Interior Department have spent more $2.1 billion so far this year fighting fires — about the same as in all of 2015, the most expensive wildfire season on record.’ http://www.denverpost.com/2017/09/12/ryan-zinke-preventing-wildfires/

  14. Cassandra says:

    Experts are now predicting that 2017 will go down as one of the worst wildfire seasons in decades. “Although lightning-sparked fires are a natural part of the forests’ life cycles, forests reburning at short intervals is a relatively rare phenomenon. For the past 10,000 years, these woods have burned approximately every 100 to 300 years, meaning fires typically scorched old trees But as climate change leads to longer and hotter dry seasons, younger forests throughout the Yellowstone region may start burning more frequently. (The jury is still out on how climate change will affect wildfires in other Western conifer forests.) “If that becomes the norm, where there’s no time for these forests to take a break, to grow for 150 years or so without burning, you could see some widespread changes to the forests,” said Richard Hutto, an ecologist at the University of Montana. These changes could play out in a couple of ways…”
    “Fire on the Mountain: 2 Forests Offer Clues to Yellowstone’s Fate in a Warming World” (NYT 9/13/17) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/13/climate/yellowstone-western-fires-in-two-forests.html

  15. Beniamino says:

    “How forest fires spoil wine : Formation of unwanted aromas in wine explained” (Technical University of Munich 9/26/17) https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-09/tuom-hff092517.php Aromatic substances are volatile and in nature are attached to sugar, for example in plants. The aroma can be retained or stabilized with this sugary compound. The aromatic substance can then once again be detached from the sugar and released. This process is called glycosylation. It describes a series of chemical or enzymatic reactions, for example, in which carbohydrates are bound to small, hydrophobic compounds such as aromas. An enzyme called glycosyltransferase is responsible for this.
    If grape vines are exposed to bush fires, as happens more often in Australia, Southern Italy and California, the grape vine absorbs the smoky aromas via its leaves and fruits. In the plant, the off-notes are then linked with sugar molecules by a glycosyltransferase – a protein that acts as a biocatalyst. This link with sugar molecules makes the smoky off-notes more water-soluble. As a result, the grape vine stores the now no longer volatile smoke aromas.
    Only when opening a bottle of wine is a strong off-note perceived. “The smell and taste of such a wine is then often described with the term ash or ashtray,” says scientist Katja Härtl. “This leads to a strong reduction in the quality of the wine.”

  16. Big Ernie says:

    “Stark Evidence: A Warmer World Is Sparking More and Bigger Wildfires” (Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies Oct 2, 2017) http://e360.yale.edu/features/the-evidence-is-clear-a-warmer-world-means-more-wildfires The increase in forest fires, seen this summer from North America to the Mediterranean to Siberia, is directly linked to climate change, scientists say. And as the world continues to warm, there will be greater risk for fires on nearly every continent.
    …Globally, the length of the fire season increased by nearly 19 percent between 1978 and 2013, thanks to longer seasons of warm, dry weather in one-quarter of the planet’s forests. In the western U.S, for example, the wildfire season has grown from five months in the 1970s to seven months today.

  17. Incendiarism says:

    “Several massive wildfires burned out of control in Napa and Sonoma counties early Monday, destroying an untold number of homes and businesses, forcing the evacuation of many thousands of people and shutting down major roadways as firefighters sought to halt the advance of infernos that were driven by powerful winds.
    There was no immediate estimate of the damage or the extent of injuries — nor an explanation for the sheer number of fires — but structures were burning in both counties, according to authorities and witnesses. One blaze in and around northern Santa Rosa had burned at least 20,000 acres by 6 a.m. Monday. Residents described fleeing for their lives in the middle of the night from that fire, in cars or on foot.
    Two hospitals in Santa Rosa were evacuated. Power outages were widespread. People flocked to gas stations in cities that were safe from the conflagrations, to fuel up and buy water and other supplies. Evacuation centers were set up, and then quickly filled, forcing more to open.
    The series of fires began to ignite Sunday and multiplied as the night went on, hitting Napa and Sonoma the hardest but impacting at least five counties.” http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/2-big-wildfires-prompt-evacuations-in-Napa-County-12262945.php

    • p/s says:

      “One person dead and 1,500 structures lost in Northern California firestorm, among worst in state’s history” (LA Times 10/9/7 @ 1:10 pm) http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-napa-fires-20171009-story.html “A key reason why the fires burning through Napa and Sonoma counties became so devastating was that the ignitions happened at the worst possible moment: extremely dry conditions combined with so-called “Diablo winds” that fanned flames on the ridgetops with gusts as high as 70 mph. It’s similar to the conditions that caused one of the most destructive fires in Northern California history, the October 1991 fire storm that struck the Oakland and Berkeley hills that killed 25 people and destroyed more than 3,300 single family homes.” See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NseOhUqZAh0

  18. McLeod says:

    Update: CNN @ 9:12 AM ET, Tue October 10, 2017 http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/10/us/california-fires-napa/index.html
    “The weather phenomenon behind the destructive wildfires in California’s wine country” https://qz.com/1098211/napa-fires-diablo-winds-are-causing-destructive-wildfire-in-napa-sonoma-yuba/ “…This could be a harbinger of things to come. According to a 2015 study, thanks to warmer and drier summers driven by global climate change, the downslope winds that led to the current situation are going to become more frequent and are likely to cause fires across even bigger areas in California in the future.” See “Identification of two distinct fire regimes in Southern California: implications for economic impact and future change” http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/10/9/094005 also “How will climate change affect wildland fire severity in the western US?” (2016) http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/3/035002 and other related articles in the sidebar.

  19. Update says:

    “Fierce winds were expected to stir wildfires and test firefighters on Saturday in Northern California where the most lethal outbreak of wildfires in state history has killed 35 people and forced more than 90,000 residents from their homes. A total of 17 major wildfires – some encompassing several smaller blazes merged together – had consumed nearly 222,000 acres of dry brush, grasslands and trees across eight counties and destroyed an estimated 5,700 homes.” http://uk.reuters.com/article/us-california-fire/fierce-winds-stir-deadly-california-wildfires-as-teams-search-for-victims-idUKKBN1CG124
    “The California wildfire is a disaster that’s anything but natural” (Idaho Statesman 10/12/17) http://www.idahostatesman.com/news/local/news-columns-blogs/letters-from-the-west/article178549326.html
    “In California, Fires So Fast Hesitation Proved Lethal” (New York Times 10/13/17) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/13/us/california-wildfires-victims.html See map
    “The climate-change fire alarm from Northern California” (LA Times 10/12/17) http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-northern-california-fires-20171012-story.html

  20. Post-mortem says:

    “Where Did the Napa Fire Begin? Investigators Scour the Ashes” ( New York Times Oct 20, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/20/us/california-wildfires-investigation.html
    …The utility company that runs power lines in the affected areas, Pacific Gas and Electric, said it was complying with a request from regulators to preserve all potential evidence.
    The company trims or takes down 1.2 million trees near its power lines every year, a spokesman, Keith Stephens, said. California regulations require all branches within four feet of lines be removed.

    • Post-mortem says:

      After the Fires, Experts in Napa Valley Race to Prevent Water Contamination : Experts are concerned about how rainfall could spread toxic chemicals and destabilize hillsides thus threatening to damage the region’s water supply. https://psmag.com/environment/forest-fire-fallout-could-impact-water-supply “In some of these areas, the fires did what fire is supposed to do,” says Brock Dolman, a watershed ecologist with the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center in Sonoma County. That is, the fires burned at relatively low temperatures, leaving adult trees alive while clearing underbrush from fuel-loaded woodlands and cracking seedpods of certain fire-adapted plants, which will allow them to germinate. “So next year we’ll see mushrooms and wildflower blooms,” Dolman adds.
      In fact, most of the burned wildlands were hardly devastated, according to Caitlin Cornwall, the research program manager at the Sonoma Ecology Center.
      “It appears that, in a lot of the mixed forests, the fires burned mostly in the understory,” says Cornwall, whose organization helps communities manage the health of the Sonoma Valley’s wildlands and watersheds.
      But in some locations, the fires were hot and destructive, driven by powerful winds and destroying almost every bit of vegetation in their paths. Adult trees burned away from roots to canopy, along with shrubby undergrowth and grasses. With the root networks that help hold soil together incinerated, the risk of mudslides will increase when heavy rains fall.”

  21. Scorched Earth says:

    “Government Scientist Blocked from Talking About Climate and Wildfires : Critics are accusing the Trump administration of stifling the dissemination of taxpayer-funded science (Scientific American 10/31/17) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/government-scientist-blocked-from-talking-about-climate-and-wildfires/ “…William (Matt) Jolly, an ecologist with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula is not the only scientist whose request was denied. No travel authorizations were given to researchers from the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Human Dimensions Science Program, according to AFE. That includes Karin Riley, a research ecologist who studies the relationship between climate and wildfire. Riley is vice president of AFE’s board of directors.
    Three U.S. Geological Survey researchers who are scheduled to give presentations at the wildfire conference next month have been in limbo for months while their travel request is reviewed. All three scientists are slated to speak about climate change.”
    According to the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, the oldest written version of the saying “what you don’t know can’t hurt you” comes from 1576, in Petit Palace by G. Pettie. “So long as I know it not, it hurteth mee not.”

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