L.A. Times: What all those dead trees mean for the Sierra Nevada

By Bettina Boxall
January 28, 2017
Reporting from Sequoia National Park, CA

The ponderosa pine had taken root decades before the Revolutionary War, making a stately stand on this western Sierra Nevada slope for some 300 years, Nate Stephenson figures.

Then came the beetle blitzkrieg. Now the tree is a dab in the gray and rusty death stain smeared across the mountain range.

At the base of its massive trunk, a piece of bark has been cut off, revealing an etched swirl of insect trails. Higher up, naked branches reach out, as if from a many-armed scarecrow.

“This was alive until the drought killed it,” Stephenson says mournfully.

The U.S. Forest Service estimates that since 2010, more than 102 million drought-stressed and beetle-ravaged trees have died across 7.7 million acres of California forest. More than half of those died last year alone.

Exacerbated by anti-wildfire policies that produced a crowded forest more vulnerable to drought, the massive dieback is unprecedented in the recorded history of the Sierra.

The beetle epidemic is transforming the 4,500-foot to 6,000-foot elevation band of the central and southern range for decades to come, if not permanently. The sheer scale of mortality means that outside of developed areas, it’s likely that most of the tree corpses will be left to topple over.

It will takes centuries to replace the legions of majestic old pines that have succumbed — if that is even possible in a warmer future that promises to alter the forest in ways ecologists can only guess.

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Shared from the Los Angeles Times on January 30, 2017.