Scientists have discovered a record variety of dead firs Oregonan ominous sign of how drought and the climate crisis are ravaging the American West.
A recent aerial survey found that over one million acres of forest contain trees which have succumbed to stressors exacerbated by years of drought. Images released by the US Forest Service show Oregon’s lush green expanses dotted with ominous swathes of red.
“It’s staggering,” said Daniel DePinte, the Forest Service’s aerial survey program manager who led the Pacific Northwest’s aerial survey, noting that this 12 months saw the realm’s highest fir mortality rate ever recorded. These evergreen conifers are less in a position to survive drought conditions than other heartier trees that grow within the landscape.
He and his colleagues scanned the slopes several times from June to October, detailing the damage on digital maps. During this time, it became clear that this 12 months can be unlike anything he had seen before. Data first environmental non-profit organization Columbia Insight reports, remains to be being finalized, but dead trees have been spotted in 1.1 million acres of Oregon forest. Scientists have come to call it “Firmageddon.”
“The size of this is large,” DePinte said. “Many people think that climate change is barely affecting the ice caps or some low-level island, however it’s actually affecting us here in our backyard,” he said. “If this drought continues and climate change continues and we proceed to disregard what nature is showing us world wide – that does not bode well in any respect.”
The ongoing drought, coupled with recent extreme heat, has made it difficult for vulnerable trees comparable to firs to adapt. As the cascading effects of the climate crisis unfold, ecosystems are expected to alter. The loss of those trees is an indication that the forests may already be starting to alter.
“It’s going to be a special forest with a special character, and it may occur throughout the landscape as nature has decided,” DePinte said. “Nature says there are simply not enough fir trees to be eliminated from these areas over time.”
Scientists expected to see signs of stress within the forests, however the sudden increase in mortality was alarming. Before that 12 months, the biggest area where dead trees were recorded in Oregon was in 1952, when dieback was noted on about 550,000 acres.
“It’s not surprising that this is going on, but seeing a peak like this in a 12 months is worrying,” said Christine Buhl, a forest entomologist with the Oregon Department of Forestry. The underlying conditions that caused the spike – record high temperatures and record low rainfall – had a fancy effect on the forest as a consequence of timing, duration and frequency.
“A hot drought is a double blow to a tree,” she said, explaining that the roots of drought-affected trees die, making it difficult for them to get better, even when water is obtainable. Prolonged lack of moisture, especially during growing seasons when rainfall has been heavy, also damages the vascular tissues of the tree, that are utilized by the tree for water uptake.