Are Trees Really in Trouble?

As years go by, trees in the United States and other parts of the world are succumbing to numerous threats that many have underestimated. The US has lost millions of trees – so many, in fact, that the exact total is unknown – and the same can be said for countries around the world. Are the trees of the world in trouble? If so, what’s causing them to die and what can we do to stop it?

Signs that the Trees are Dying

Per a senior scientist at the USDA’s Forest Service Northern Research Station located in Syracuse, New York, David J. Nowak, PhD, canopy cover is measurably disappearing. Richard Cobb, PhD and teacher of forest health, dendrology, and ecology at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, says that the phenomenon reaches farther than just the US – it’s happening at a global scale. Signs and symptoms worldwide include poor tree health, smaller tree sizes, and infestations of pathogens and parasites at levels previously unseen.

What Is Happening to the Trees?

Both researchers say there’s no one single cause for the global tree problem; rather, there are numerous causes that vary from region to region.

  • Aging trees – Nowak says that in some cases, aging trees in older forests are contributing to the loss of canopy, which is a natural phenomenon.
  • Climate change – Though hotly debated, many researchers blame climate change for tree loss.
  • Drought – In places like California, lack of rainfall means trees must compete for available moisture, which often leads to significant losses.
  • Weather events – As storms continue to get stronger and more destructive, they ravage trees.
  • Human development – Deforestation continues to occur at an astonishing rate. In Borneo, for example, palms are being destroyed by the thousands of acres in order to fulfill the demand for palm oil.
  • Exotic pests – Insects and diseases continue to worsen from year to year. Fusarium dieback, a fatal tree disease spread by Asian beetles called the Kuroshio shot hole borer and the polyphagous shot hole borer, was discovered in the Los Angeles area back in 2012 and continues to worsen. In the US, the ash boring beetle’s populations have soared, leading to significant damage and death.

The Biggest Concerns – Drought & Infestation

Though problems vary worldwide, here in the US, the biggest concerns are drought & the Asian beetles spreading disease like wildfire. California is the country’s biggest producer of a number of tree crops, including almonds, but its recent five-year drought has growers concerned. This is being compounded by the recently-discovered shot hole borer beetles, and their populations have boomed since they were first discovered. Per the Forest Service, this one insect could kill up to 38% of all the trees in the region. Ann Hope, a representative for an insecticide manufacturer known as JJ Mauget out of Arcadia, California, refers to the phenomenon as “apocalyptic”.

It’s difficult to stop drought and the transport of exotic pests, but growers and landscapers can look for signs of infested trees and dieback, remove affected trees, and carefully clean tools between jobs. Being aware that the problem exists is the first step in preventing further tree loss.