Every time that we turn on the television, or log onto the internet, we are met with images and stories of the major disasters that are destroying the world around us. From the catastrophic fires that are devastated Indonesia to the decimation of the bee population, these news stories captivate and horrify us all at the same time leaving us feeling powerless to save this world that we call home.
There is, however, one major disaster that appears to have gone, somehow, unnoticed. Across North America millions of trees are dying off for a variety of reasons, altering the environment and ecosystems that depend on them, but even those that live in these areas are turning a blind eye to the plight. Providing for clean air, habitats for countless wildlife and a steady food source for many, trees are the most critical organisms found on the planet.
The loss of these trees at such an alarming rate was first catching the attention of experts in 2015, as discussed in a study published in the journal Nature. The study found that 15.3 billion trees are chopped down every year and that 46% of the world’s trees have been cleared in the last 12,000 years. This rate is alarming, with the forested areas on the planet rapidly decreasing.
Once again raising flags in 2016, the U.S. Forest Service released a statement regarding the growing problem in California:
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced today that the U.S. Forest Service has identified an additional 36 million dead trees across California since its last aerial survey in May 2016. This brings the total number of dead trees since 2010 to over 102 million on 7.7 million acres of California’s drought stricken forests. In 2016 alone, 62 million trees have died, representing more than a 100 percent increase in dead trees across the state from 2015. Millions of additional trees are weakened and expected to die in the coming months and years.”
The decimation of the tree population in Northern California has been largely linked to Sudden Oak Death as well as an ongoing drought in the area, making it increasingly difficult for vegetative life to continue to grow and thrive.
Some experts speculate that this isn’t just a reflection of a specific incident, like the drought in California, but rather a much larger problem. Often viewed as the most rugged of all plants on the planet, the way in which they appear to be giving into diseases and pests at such an alarming rate leads experts to believe that they have been weakened from the state of our environment, leaving them more susceptible to these varying situations.
Hawaii also fell victim to this alarming trend in 2010 with a large number of the ohi’a trees on the island suddenly dying off due to an ohi’a disease. Largely unknown, scientists have still been unable to determine the initial cause of the disease and for this reason, they have been unsuccessful in their efforts to discover a way to treat it.
Looking further north, the alarming presence of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has been devastating parks and forested areas across much of the United States and into Canada. First appearing in 2002, the beetle destroyed entire ash populations in northern cities. Since that time it has now spread into 22 different states across the country.
The fragile web that is our ecosystem has been drastically impacted, with much of the plight still left unknown. Experts continue to try to better understand the potential crisis that we are now facing.
“Natural ecosystems have been altered in various ways by nitrogen, sulfur, and mercury deposited in rain, snow, or as gases and particles in the atmosphere. Through decades of scientific research, scientists have documented how local, regional, and global sources of air pollution can produce profound changes in ecosystems. These changes include acidification of soils and surface waters, harmful algal blooms and low oxygen conditions in estuaries, reduced diversity of native plants, high levels of mercury in fish and other wildlife, and decreased tolerance to other stresses, such as pests, disease, and climate change.”
- Issues in Ecology, Fall 2011 Edition – “Setting Limits – Using Air Pollution Thresholds to Protect and Restore U.S. Ecosystems”