Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency regarding the dead tree epidemic affecting California on Oct. 30.
Over 22 million trees have died under bark-beetle infestations. Most normal healthy trees have defense mechanisms that prevent bark beetles native to California from drastically infiltrating them, but the state’s four years of drought have weakened these defenses.
The governor described, in a press release on Oct. 30, the present status of California’s nature as “the worst epidemic of tree mortality in [the state’s] modern history” which “demands action on all fronts.”
A.S. Assistant Vice President of Environmental Justice Affairs Moon Pankam told the UCSD Guardian the severe effects of the death of California’s trees could increase the risk of wildfire.
“The dead tree epidemic is very urgent — all of these dead trees are a serious wildfire hazard, and run the risk of fueling wildfires up and down the state,” Pankam said. “Dead trees can also fall over and hurt people and will cause property damage.”
Brown’s declaration included stipulations such as pinpointing high-hazard zones for wildfires and falling trees, as well as removing trees in the indicated areas. He also urged state agencies to help the cause and requested the federal government’s assistance through a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
Such participation may include “technical assistance for private landowners, matching federal funding and expedited approval for emergency actions on federal land,” according to the press release.
According to The Sacramento Bee, Brown indicated that he has plans to require the California Public Utilities Commission to hasten agreements with bioenergy centers employing resources from regions at high risk for beetle infestation, as well as to require a raise in how many days tree waste may be burned.
However, Brown’s orders also include “an exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act for efforts to remove dead or dying trees, alarming some environmentalists.” With this exemption, the CPUC will no longer force agencies to publicly disclose information on their actions or environmental impact.
In terms of how Californians should respond to the epidemic, Pankam suggested that homeowners find methods to conserve water as best they can.
“Homeowners with dead or dying trees on their property can have them removed,” Pankam said. “But homeowners are being encouraged to cut back on watering their plants due to California’s ongoing issues with water, which might inadvertently be contributing to the creation of more dead or dying trees.”
As for students, Pankam recognized conserving water may be difficult but still encouraged them to do so.
“For students who have trees on their properties and are also trying to conserve water, this could be a difficult issue to work around,” Pankam explained. “I think, if possible, students should research the watering needs of individual trees on their properties, and find a way to water trees more efficiently — water in the evenings or early mornings, for example, and water perhaps once a week or so, instead of every other day. Don’t outright stop watering trees. Wean them off gradually to a less-intensive watering cycle.