Ravaged by drought and bugs, North Coast forests prone to go up in flames

Glenda Anderson, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Thousands of trees in North Coast forests are dying, apparent victims of more than three years of drought and the bark-boring pests that flourish when water is scarce.

The dead and dying trees, mostly pines, are adding flammable fuel to forests where the fire risk is already high because of California’s prolonged drought. The dead wood won’t cause more fires, but once ignited, flames will burn hotter and be much more difficult to control, posing potential danger for rural residents and firefighters, fire officials say.

“It increases the intensity of the fire,” said Jim Wright, a Cal Fire division chief in Lake County, where most of the area’s dead trees have been found. “It’s just like starting a fire in your fireplace. It’s much easier to get a fire started when you have dry wood than green wood.”

The tree deaths are part of a larger, statewide problem that has ravaged the southern Sierra, where more than 10 million pine trees in national forests have perished. More than 12 million trees have died in national forests statewide in the past year because of drought and pests, according to U.S. Forest Service aerial surveys. Similar problems decimated pine forests in Colorado several years ago.

“Statewide, it’s horrific,” said Greg Giusti, forest adviser with the UC Davis Cooperative Extension. Statistics for state and privately owned forests were not available, but Giusti estimates the tree deaths in Sonoma, Mendocino and Lake counties to be in the tens of thousands.

Read more at: Ravaged by drought and bugs, North Coast forests | The Press Democrat