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Over 100 Million Dead Trees Pose Wildfire Threat In California

MADERA COUNTY (KPIX 5) – A tiny pest is turning lush forests into tinderboxes.

More than 100 million dead trees in California are blamed on years of drought and an epidemic number of tree-eating bark beetles.

It's a dramatic transformation.

CalFire Division Chief Jim Crawford said, "It's obviously an historic event that's occurring in California. Tens of millions of trees are dead or dying."

Years of drought have left California's forests critically weakened. Vulnerable to bark beetles, tiny insects the size of a grain of rice, that are causing big problems.

CalFire estimates more than 102 million trees have died during the state's historic drought, transforming large swaths of the state's majestic forests into tinderbox.

Crawford said, "Dead is dead. So, they will not come back. There will be no way for them to come back. Removing them will be important for fire danger issue as well as just public safety in general for having trees fall."

A normal, healthy tree has the ability to fend off the insects. But the drought created a perfect environmental storm, leaving the trees -- and Ponderosa Pines in particular which are the beetles favorite -- stressed and largely defenseless.

Crawford said, "When we have a drought, the trees don't take up as much water. So, they don't produce as much sap which is really what prevents beetles and other bugs from getting in and killing them."

And even though the recommendation is to remove the diseased trees, we saw entire hillsides covered in dead and dying trees at Bass Lake near Yosemite.

CalFire is preparing for what could be a challenging fire season, as the lingering effects of the drought continue to alter the state's landscape and raise the risk of wildfires.

"The death of those trees that's occurring throughout the Sierra is having a major effect and will for decades to come," Crawford said.

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