Drought, bark beetle killing trees at high rate in Lake Tahoe Basin

The drought and bark beetles are killing trees at a high rate in the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Trees are dying at a staggering rate in some parts of the west. Nearly 30 million trees are dead or dying in California, according to U.S. Forest Service officials.

In the Lake Tahoe Basin, the mortality rates sits at upwards of 40 thousand, according to a 2015 report. And that number is expected to rise this year.

"It's increasing over the last few years because of the drought," said Rita Mastutia, forester/silviculturist with the U.S. Forest Service.

Mastutia says the trees in Tahoe, and the rest of California, are getting attacked on two fronts. Despite a wet winter in Tahoe, the trees are still suffering from a lack of water. The drought, coupled with the attack of the bark beetle, has Tahoe trees in a fragile state.

"The amount of mortality from this drought and the bark beetles, as for as I know, I don't think Califonria has ever experienced this drastic amount of mortality," said Mastutia.

The bark beetle takes advantage of trees that are already week from the drought. It's able to recognize their fragility, and then attacks and kills the live trees.

"The beetles know that th trees are stressed, and then they will go after these trees," said Mastutia.

In California, the combination of the two has left millions of trees dead. Tahoe is not nearly as bad as some areas, but Forest Service officials are still concerned.

"It's a big deal right now. It's widespread, mainly in the south. But, it's working its way north," said Mastutia. "Just more and more trees are dying."

Forest Service officials tell News 4 they are thinning the forest in parts of Tahoe to remove dead and dying trees.

As we head into summer, Mastutia says the danger of wildfires are a significant concern.

"When you have dead trees, they're dry compared to a live tree with some moisture in it. So, it's going to burn alot easier, hotter [and] faster."

It's taking a toll on recreation too. In some California forests, officials have been forced to close some recreation sports because of the danger of weakened trees. Forest Service Officials in the Lake Tahoe Basin have not had to resort to those measures.

For people who flock to the mountains and forests to get away from it all, the crisis in California forests can be discouraging.

"It's really disappointing. It's hard to look at, it's really sad," said Mastutia.