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Brown Asks Federal Government For Help In Saving California Trees

Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at UC San Diego, Oct. 27, 2015.
Associated Press
Gov. Jerry Brown speaks at UC San Diego, Oct. 27, 2015.

With millions of trees in San Diego County and statewide being ravaged by pests and the drought, California's governor Friday declared an emergency and requested federal assistance in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

"A lack of precipitation over the last four years has made trees in many regions of California susceptible to infestations of native bark beetles, which are constrained under normal circumstances by the defense mechanisms of healthy trees," Gov. Jerry Brown wrote in his declaration.

He said the combination of a lack of rainfall and pest infestation has caused "vast tree mortality." The U.S. Forest Service estimated that 22 million trees have died in the state, with tens of millions more likely to succumb by the end of this year, according to the governor.

"Recent scientific measurements suggest that the scale of this tree die- off is unprecedented in modern history," Brown wrote. He said the dead trees raise the risk of wildfires.

In San Diego County, numerous swaths of dead trees mar the backcountry, which is otherwise greener than usual at this time of year because of summer rainfall.

Bark beetles have infested trees at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla, where 150 of around 4,600 Torrey pines have been damaged. Around 100 trees have been removed, but taking out the rest would be too destructive or hazardous.

The goldspotted oak borer beetle has killed more than 40 percent of the mature oak trees in the region over the past 11 years, and has recently been detected in northern sections of the county at Palomar Mountain and Hidden Meadows, near Escondido.

The governor directed state officials, utilities and local governments to take 19 steps to combat the problem, among them removing dead trees that could threaten roads, power lines or other infrastructure if they fall; distributing portable equipment to remove trees and cut them into wood chips used for mulch; expanding the use of controlled burns; and monitoring tree removal efforts so that their effectiveness in promoting forest health can be assessed.

Brown also suspended several state code sections so authorities could carry out his directives and called for actions to convert the biomass into energy.

The governor asked Vilsack for federal funding and technical assistance, the redirection of U.S. Forest Service money to allow for tree removal on federal land near communities, and expediting approvals of emergency action on or near federal land.