An astounding 102 million trees have now died in California

Forest managers have never seen anything like it. Across California, an astounding 102 million trees have died over the past six years from drought and disease — including 62 million trees in 2016 alone, the US Forest Service estimates. Once-mighty oaks and pines have faded into ghastly hues of brown and gray.

The biggest worry is that these dead, dry forests will become highly combustible when California’s annual fire season rolls around next summer. The south and central Sierra Nevada regions, where most of the dead trees are located, are at particular risk of severe wildfires.

Today, California is in the midst of a historically brutal six-year drought — exacerbated by unusually warm summer temperatures. Those dense forests are particularly water-starved. They’ve become weak, susceptible to disease and other afflictions.

And now along comes the bark beetle, which loves to prey on species like oak and pine. In normal years, a healthy tree can fight off bark beetles trying to squirm into its bark by producing pitch that drives them out. But drought-weakened trees can’t muster a proper defense.

Additionally, a separate fungal pathogen introduced into California in the 1990s has also started killing millions of oak trees along the coast, from Monterey County on north. The disease, known as “sudden oak death,” creates ugly cankers on the tree trunk that bleed out sap — a fatal condition for some trees.

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