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Tree Deaths Fan Fear Of Sierra Firestorm

Worthley Pushes Plan To Export Sierra Logs

Lake Isabella fire burns 80 homes Friday.This is what a firestorm looks like

Lake Isabella fire burns 80 homes Friday.This is what a firestorm looks like

Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley is pushing the idea to allow the export of dead trees from the local national forests to try to make at least a small dent in what could easily be a looming catastrophe at our doorsteps this summer. “If we don’t do something dramatic there is going to be an explosion of wildfires sometime soon” given the huge increase in tree mortality measured in a recent aerial survey.

Current law bans export of logs from the national forest put in place years ago upon the urging of the local logging industry to limit competition. But in large part that industry is long gone.

Meanwhile, says Worthley, there is a potential calamity at our back door due to years of drought and insect infestation “with the number of forest trees dying increasing from 29 million to 66 million in just the past year” according to a  US Forest Service 2014-2015,2016 survey.

Problem is “Mind Blowing”

“The problem is simply mind blowing” declares Worthley, who made the argument recently at a forest health round table session with Congressman Jim Costa in Clovis.

“Many of these trees have intrinsic value“ if they could be exported  and “private companies could get in and bring them down” to be shipped overseas. “They could make a difference” even if they could affect 10% of the trees.” That would take federal legislation done on an emergency basis with the help of both forest officials and Congress, he adds.

“Turning on a few more biomass plants isn’t going to make it given the scope of the problem” says Worthley whose family owned a Dinuba sawmill in past years.

The most recent survey released this week found a worsening tree mortality problem in the past year particularly in the southern Sierra mountains in Tulare,Fresno and Kern Counties where dead trees per acre have reached more than 35 ( see red on map).

Survey 2016-06-22 at 10.48.10 AM

Worthley says forest service representatives have claimed they are clearing some 13,000 acres of dead trees but the depressing fact is that tree deaths are in the millions here.

He adds a a warning that that the extent of dead trees near Sequoia groves is alarming remembering that last year’s 156,000 acre Rough Fire burned some Big Tree in its wake.”This is the only part of the world where Giant Sequoias grow.”

‘The problem is while the Governor has declared this to be a statewide emergency, this is happening on federal land .” FEMA can’t act until there is catastrophic wildfire but we need to act before there is a firestorm.”

Between 2010 and late 2015, Forest Service aerial detection surveys found that 40 million trees died across California – with nearly three quarters of that total succumbing to drought and insect mortality from September 2014 to October 2015 alone. The survey identified approximately 26 million additional dead trees since the last inventory in October, 2015. The areas surveyed in May covered six southern Sierra counties including Fresno, Kern, Madera, Mariposa, Tuolumne and Tulare. Photos and video of the May survey are available on the Forest Service multimedia webpage.

Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for Congress to help as well.

“Tree dies-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk,” says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “While the fire risk is currently the most extreme in California because of the tree mortality, forests across the country are at risk of wildfire and urgently need restoration requiring a massive effort to remove this tinder and improve their health. Unfortunately, unless Congress acts now to address how we pay for firefighting, the Forest Service will not have the resources necessary to address the forest die-off and restore our forests. Forcing the Forest Service to pay for massive wildfire disasters out of its pre-existing fixed bud

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