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John Muir, naturalist and cofounder of the Sierra Club, wrote of the forests in the Sierra Nevada, “Going to the woods is going home.” Unfortunately, since 2014 that home has seen unprecedented levels of tree mortality with as many as 129 million trees across 8.9 million acres lost. Where once stood a lush, green forest, there are now trees turning yellow and brown. The alarmingly accelerated pace of their death has been linked to the stress caused by climate change, more specifically increased temperatures, years of severe drought, and an unhealthy overgrowth due to years of fire suppression, which led to a significant spike in bark beetle infestations.
Photographer Mette Lampcov spent three days in November 2017 in California documenting the Sierra National Forest’s dead trees, as well as the homeowners forced to reckon with their dying surroundings. According to the US Forest Service’s 2017 Tree Mortality Aerial Detection Survey results, the Sierra National Forest has seen the largest number of tree deaths in California national forests, with nearly 32 million since 2010. The change in landscape was immediately noticeable, said Lampcov: “As you drive up a steep road heading into the Sierras, you start seeing the dead trees. It’s overwhelming and hard to explain what endless views over mountains look like with a sea of brown and yellowing trees. The area is so affected by dead trees; you smell fires and hear chainsaws all day long. Everywhere you look there are dead trees.”
The article goes on to state the following:
Such a devastatingly large number of dead trees come with equally dire consequences. From an environmental standpoint, there’s the one-two punch of both a loss of the amount of carbon stored by the trees and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the displacement of wildlife as their habitats are destroyed in subsequent wildfires, and an increased risk for larger and more destructive wildfires once ignited.
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