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Droughts may be harming forests, causing death spiral

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Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images A firefighter monitors a backfire as he battles the King Fire on Sept. 17, 2014, in Fresh Pond (El Dorado County), east of Sacramento.

Drought’s harm ravaging forests, researchers find

By Peter Fimrite February 1, 2016 Updated: February 2, 2016 5:45pm

Worsening drought conditions may be doing more damage to forests in California and throughout the West than their ecosystems can handle, causing a spiral of death that could have a devastating impact, a U.S. Forest Service study concluded Monday. The 300-page report, “Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States,” outlines how hotter, drier and more extreme weather will spark massive insect outbreaks, tree and plant die-offs, bigger and more costly wildfires, and economic impacts to timber and rangeland habitat. “There are growing concerns that extreme precipitation events, droughts and warmer temperatures will accelerate tree and shrub death,” said report co-author Toral Patel-Weynand, the Forest Service’s director of sustainable forest research. “In addition to that, we obviously have impacts on timber, seed production, water and recreational activities.” The study — by 77 scientists from the Forest Service, universities, non-governmental organizations and national labs — seeks to bring together years of peer-reviewed research and provide the best science to forest and rangeland managers as they grapple with the effects of climate change on the 193 million acres of national forest. There are 21 million acres in California’s 18 national forests. “Our forests and rangelands are national treasures, and because they are threatened, we are threatened,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Every region of the country is impacted by the direct and indirect effects of drought conditions and volatile weather patterns.” ….

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