As record drought conditions exacerbate bark beetle infestation that is killing tens of millions of trees across California, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. declared a state of emergency and sought federal action to help mobilize additional resources for the safe removal of dead and dying trees.
“California is facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in its modern history,” said Governor Brown in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “A crisis of this magnitude demands action on all fronts.”
Four years of drought have made trees in many regions of California susceptible to infestation by native bark beetles, which are normally constrained by the defense mechanisms of healthy trees. The United States Forest Service recently estimated that more than 22 million trees have already died in California due to current conditions.
The tree die-off is of such a scale that it significantly worsens wildfire risk in many areas of the state and presents life safety risks from falling trees to Californians living in rural, forested communities. Several counties have declared local state of emergencies due to this epidemic tree mortality.
The Governor’s state of emergency proclamation on the tree mortality epidemic builds on the April 2014 executive order to redouble the state’s drought response, which included provisions to expedite the removal of dead and dying hazardous trees. Today’s proclamation helps identify high hazard zones for wildfire and falling trees that have resulted from the unprecedented die-off and prioritizes tree removal in these areas. It also calls for state agencies to take several actions to enable removal of hazard trees. Governor Brown’s letter to Secretary Vilsack requests urgent federal action, including additional technical assistance for private land owners, matching federal funding and expedited approval for emergency actions on federal lands.
In addition, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and CAL FIRE are convening a Task Force on Tree Mortality comprised of state and federal agencies, local governments and utilities that will coordinate emergency protective actions and monitor ongoing conditions.
California’s Drought Response
Governor Brown declared a drought state of emergency in January 2014 and directed state agencies to take all necessary actions to respond to drought conditions. In April, Governor Brown announced the first-ever 25 percent statewide mandatory water reductions and a series of actions to help save water, increase enforcement to prevent wasteful water use, streamline the state’s drought response and invest in new technologies that will make California more drought resilient. Californians have responded with unprecedented conservation efforts, exceeding the Governor’s water reduction order in each of the past three months.
To date, guided by the California Water Action Plan, the state has committed hundreds of millions of dollars – including Water Bond funds – to emergency drought relief, disaster assistance, water conservation and infrastructure projects across the state. Efforts are also underway to establish a framework for sustainable, local groundwater management for the first time in California’s history based on legislation signed by Governor Brown last year.
Throughout the year, Governor Brown has convened mayors, business leaders and top agricultural, environmental and urban water agency officials from across California to discuss the state’s drought and conservation efforts.