The Real Culprit of California’s Wildfires

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired), Bugwood.org

By: Adam Doklovic, Agribusiness and Applied Economics | Mansfield, Ohio

In the past few years most of California has been in a massive drought, which has created apocalyptic looking wildfires. According to Angela Johnston, a journalist from a local radio station in San Francisco, California has had over 5,000 wildfires this year alone, and it’s not even considered wildfire season yet!

This summer has been extremely difficult in not only preventing wildfires but also containing them. Why have these fires been able to spread so easily? The question should be more focused with whom than of why. Now we ask, who has been the culprit to allow the rapid spread of these wildfires, none other than a beetle that is only 5 millimeters long.

The Western Pine Beetle is native to many parts of the world but here in the United States the beetle has been taking advantage of California’s drought. Just as when a human is dehydrated, he/she becomes susceptible to a greater number of health issues, the same goes for trees. The Western Pine Beetle is a species of bark beetle that can infest trees that are stressed.  When they infest a tree already struggling with dehydration, the tree has little chance to survive and usually ends up dying.

In California alone the Western Pine Beetle is estimated to have killed over 66 million trees. This has created a lot of standing firewood to allow a massive fire spread in a rapid amount of time.

Next time you turn on the news and the media is blaming global warming, or a rogue campfire for a massive forest fire that is engulfing California just remember that there could be other factors at play, even a microscopic beetle.

Adam Doklovic is currently an undergraduate student at Ohio State and experienced the California drought first hand while interning with the USDA in the Bay Area during summer 2016.

Sources:

Dead trees are fueling California wildfires, but what’s killing the trees? (KALW San Francisco)

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This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

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