For almost a century, Southern California has been developing the vegetation in its area, now apparent in the vast stretch of tree-canopied streets in the Southland. The same trees that cool, shade, and feed people, however, are dying so rapidly that experts fear the region might look, smell, feel and sound noticeably less pleasant in just a few years.
Big Menaces in Small Packages
According to U.S. Forest Service supervisory research forester Greg McPherson, the unprecedented die-off of the Southern California trees is a transition to a post-oasis landscape. The results of studies highlight the need for more robust pest control services and other preventive measures, as experts point disease infestations and insects the culprits behind this phenomenon.
Botanists have documented in recent years the disease and infestations that hop-scotched across the region, devastating hundreds of thousands of big trees, including sycamores and willows. Their research pinpoints a particularly precarious menace: the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle.
According to McPherson, these small pests can kill up to 27 million trees in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Riverside Counties, including some areas in the desert. This number comprises about 38% of the 71 million trees in the urban region, which has a population of roughly 20 million people. If that many trees die, the government will have to pay about $36 billion to replace and remove them.
However, this is not just the only damage the government has to fix. The loss of the trees also brings dire consequences on the health and well-being of the residents, as well as on their property, utility savings, pollutants in the air we breathe, carbon storage, and wildlife habitat.
McPherson hopes his report regarding the situation can create a sense of urgency among officials. He says the next step should include monitoring the real damage in the urban forests, moving to remove the diseased trees, and starting to plant new ones.