There’s a very serious, disconcerting – you could even call it grave – situation going on right now in the U.S. that affects a huge number of trees, arborists and anything related to arboriculture.

I’m talking about the drought that is absolutely ravaging California.

Yes, we’ve written about it in this magazine and on the website throughout the summer. It’s a subject that’s constantly in the news, because it affects so many people and so many industries.

But, like us, trees need water to survive. Right now in California, many trees just aren’t getting it.

And they’re dying.

They’re dying very fast, in very large numbers.

“It’s an emergency situation,” Rhonda Berry, president of Silicon Valley’s urban forestry nonprofit Our City Forest, told the San Jose Mercury News. “These trees are everywhere, all around us, and are suffering.”

The push by California’s residents to save water is claiming so many unintended casualties – the state’s trees. Trees (like beautiful, hundred-year-old redwoods, as one example) that have stood strong and mighty for so long are stressed beyond normal limits. In compliance with the drought conditions, residents aren’t watering trees, shutting off their spigots to comply with the mandatory conservation measures now in effect.

As of June, this historic, extreme drought had resulted in the death of an estimated 12 million trees across California, according to a U.S. Forest Service report. As we are now into October, these numbers have certainly increased significantly. The San Jose Mercury News reported last month that all over the state – in yards, median strips and freeways – “ghostly sheaves of brown leaves will be an enduring symbol of the drought, long after winter rains resume. Their loss will reduce habitat, shade and property values, experts say.”

This description only begins to show how dire the situation is.

Media reports paint a picture of so many trees dying in the fourth year of this historic drought that some cities have begun delivering truckloads of water, in an effort to save them. For example, in Palo Alto, groundwater is pumped out during basement excavations and then this discarded water is collected in 2,700-gallon water trucks and used to irrigate trees.

Among the areas hardest hit is San Diego County, where, as of June, more than 82,000 trees – mostly Jeffrey pines – had succumbed to a lack of rainfall. Researchers had tracked more than 4.2 million acres in Cleveland, San Bernardino, Angeles and Los Padres national forests, where they found an estimated 2 million dead trees. They combed another 4.1 million acres in the southern Sierra Nevada, where they documented approximately 10 million dead trees. In the canyons of the state’s Central Coast, the rare Santa Lucia fir have shown elevated death rates, historic giant sequoia trees in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks have been suffering, with more foliage dying than usual in 2014 and 2015 because of a lack of moisture.

A3600_1_full“I expect that in the really bad areas whole stands of pine trees may no longer be there and you’ll probably see a kind of ghost forest,” Jeffrey Moore, a biological scientist for the U.S. Forest Service, told KCRA (Sacramento) News.

The other scary factor to consider during drought conditions is the potential for fires. Dry trees are obviously at a more significant risk of fire and also predation by bark beetles and other destructive pests.

As news reports continue to tumble in, it’s hard to imagine what some arborists in affected areas are going through and how much work it’s going to take to save these masses of dying trees.

We’re pulling for you, California.

Rob Meyer
Editor in Chief