Stuff that matters

Tinder to burn

102 million dead trees in California since 2010 will make for one helluva wildfire season.

Sixty-two million trees perished in the state in the last year alone, mostly in the Sierra Nevada, according to the U.S. Forest Service. That’s a lot of kindling.

Trees killed by rising temperatures, pests, and sustained drought “elevate the risk of wildfire,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Oh goody: just what California needs!

The state this year saw its most expensive wildfire in history: Monterey County’s Soberanes Fire took out more than 132,000 acres, and cost more than $260 million. South of Monterey, San Bernardino’s Blue Cut Fire burned more than 36,000 acres, and destroyed nearly 100 homes.

Removing the kindling before it burns is not a silver bullet, according to environmental scientist Char Miller in the Los Angeles Times.

Even if foresters had unlimited funds, it would be unwise to remove all the dead trees. Charred, decomposing trees are a natural element of the landscape and can support other life, making forests healthier in the long run.

Western fires in general are now bigger, and fire seasons last longer than they did a few decades ago, due to extended drought and elevated temperatures.