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USDA Forest Service: More than 36 million trees died in California in 2022

The drought was the leading cause for the high death rate.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A new report from the Forest Service says 36.3 million trees died in California in 2022.

The high mortality rate is due to a multitude of factors, with the drought being the foremost issue affecting tree health. The ongoing drought and overcrowded forests exacerbate the likelihood of trees succumbing to disease or becoming infested with beetles.

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, according to the Forest Service.

“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.”

The survey is conducted via the Aerial Detection Survey program. True firs species were the most impacted, especially in the Central and Northern Sierra. 2021 saw the death of 170,000 Douglas firs while 2022 saw 3 million Douglas fir deaths.

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, according to the Forest Service.

WATCH MORE ON ABC10 | California Drought: Historic January snowpack, water levels, and the Chile wildfires

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