Aerial view of forest

Since 2010, more than one hundred million trees have died in California. Falling trees and limbs are not the only hazard. These dead trees could provide the fuel to turn a normal wildfire into an inferno.

Fire is as much a part of California as mudslides and winter snowpack.

Van Mantgem: “The Sierras are always going to burn. So we’re never going to be able to exclude fire – and I don’t think we’d want to exclude fire – it’s a fire-adapted system.”

That’s Phil Van Mantgem, with the U.S.G.S. Western Ecological Research Center. He says that although fire is a natural part of the system, the long-term drought has made it more likely that wildfires will burn out of control. But there’s no easy solution.

Van Mantgem says in some places, dead trees are being logged to reduce the hazards, with some being made into lumber.

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Van Mantgem: “But California currently lacks a lot of the infrastructure to do that. So they’re hard to get to, they’re hard to access.”

And setting controlled fires to reduce the number of dead trees is hard to pull off in today’s highly developed landscapes.

Van Mantgem: “The other option is to do nothing and if nothing is done we have the potential certainly for large wildfires as a result.”

Reporting credit: Mark Knapp/ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo credit: USFS Region 5

Bruce Lieberman

Bruce Lieberman, a long-time journalist, has covered climate change science, policy, and politics for nearly two decades. A newspaper reporter for 20 years, Bruce worked for The San Diego Union-Tribune...