Forest Health Remains Top Priority for Forest Service
VALLEJO, Calif., Feb. 7, 2023 — A report from the USDA Forest Service reveals about 36.3 million trees across 2.6 million acres of federal, state, and private land died in California in 2022. This year, the central Sierra Nevada Range and areas further north showed the highest mortality rates, with true firs being the most impacted. The Forest Service and partners throughout the state are working together to remove dead trees and increase forest health.
This marks an increased level of mortality compared to 2021 due to the cumulative impacts of extended drought, overstocked forest conditions, insect outbreaks, and disease. Since 2020, California has experienced the driest and warmest years on record, causing serious drought conditions. Without enough water, trees are susceptible to bark beetle attacks and disease. Their susceptibility rises when trees are crowded, and temperatures are abnormally high. Even with the recent storms from atmospheric rivers, increased tree mortality should be expected in forests until precipitation returns to normal or above normal for a few years.
“Forest health is a top priority for the Forest Service,” said Jennifer Eberlien, Regional Forester for the Pacific Southwest Region. “The agency’s 10-year strategy to address the wildfire crisis includes removal of dead and dying trees in the places where it poses the most immediate threats to communities. Working together, we can mitigate the risks of tree mortality and high-intensity wildfire by reducing the overabundance of living trees on the landscape.”
Californians will directly benefit from the agency’s 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy with five new national priority landscapes selected in January to receive funding, joining two other landscapes selected last year. Most of these landscapes are in areas where severe to very severe tree mortality was detected this year. The Forest Service will collaborate with state, Tribal, and other partners to reduce wildfire exposure to communities and infrastructure within these zones.
Tree mortality is also being addressed by the California Wildfire & Forest Resilience Task Force, co-led by Regional Forester Eberlien and California Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wade Crowfoot. Task Force partners, including CAL FIRE, continue to distribute state and federal funds to increase the pace and scale of forest health treatments.
“As we tackle California’s wildfire and forestry challenges, tree mortality remains a major concern for the state,” said Joe Tyler, CAL FIRE Director and Chief. “And we’re seeing real results. In the past several years, the partnerships underway have accelerated the rate of projects completed, and in 2022 alone, we saw examples of where our combined forest resilience efforts made a difference in protecting lives, communities, and our state’s natural resources.”
The State of California has proposed $1.2 billion as part of a $2.7 billion multi-year package to accelerate wildfire resilience and forest health. The Forest Service estimates over $500 million total funding for wildfire-related projects in California through 2026. Current and future actions include thinning dense forests in strategic areas, spraying insecticide on barks of high-value trees, removing trees hazardous to public safety, and ongoing monitoring of landscape conditions.