Mountain forest killed by pine beetle infestation in Granby, Colorado. Photo: U.S. Forest Service

By Max Blau and Paul Vercammen
24 August 2016

(CNN) – A decade ago, Ben Ray had hoped to ease into retirement at his two-story wooden house nestled in the heart of the Sequoia National Forest. But the 79-year-old central California general contractor, who built homes for his future neighbors in Sierra Nevada Mountain communities such as Ponderosa and Pierpont, and his wife, Michelle, haven't had the luxury of relaxation.

That's because hundreds of once verdant pine and cedar trees, stretching far beyond their 5 acre spread, have perished at a rate so fast he's lost count of the carnage.

"I don't know what to do," said Ray, a rugged heavyset man whose eyes wet behind his tinted sunglasses as he speaks of the destruction. "It's just devastating to see our forest dying like this."

The pine and cedar trees that have died on Ben and Michelle's property are among the 66 million trees in California that have died since 2010, according to the US Forest Service. Over the past six years, thousands of fires have raged throughout the state's lush forests, turning tens of millions of pine trees a charred shade of black. The disastrous drought conditions in California have turned forests into tinderboxes, resulting in record levels of tree deaths during that time.

"It's gone from critical to catastrophic," said Don Florence, emergency planner for Mariposa County, nearly 200 miles northwest of the Ray household. "If you drive around here, you'll be at a loss over the pine trees. This isn't a disaster affecting us tomorrow, or the next day. It means change that will affect the community for multiple generations."

Now the lasting effects of a five-year drought have opened the door for the bark beetle, an indigenous insect the size of a grain of rice, to feast on pine trees left virtually defenseless in the wake of a water shortage. […]

"In a heartbeat, this could be gone, just gone," he said. "Our home, our future, gone." [more]

Bark beetles: How tiny tree killers have worsened California's wildfires



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