- Associated Press - Friday, October 30, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency on Friday to help California address a massive tree die-off exacerbated by four years of drought that has made millions of trees vulnerable to native bark beetles.

“California is facing the worst epidemic of tree mortality in its modern history,” said Brown wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “A crisis of this magnitude demands action on all fronts.”

The administration blames the drought for the infestation of native bark beetles because healthy trees can usually defend against the insects. The United States Forest Service estimates that more than 22 million trees have already died in California.

Brown is asking the federal government for additional funding and help for private landowners to remove dead and dying trees.

Friday’s proclamation is just the latest in California’s response to the drought. Brown ordered an unprecedented 25 percent statewide mandatory water reduction in April 2014, triggering a series of conservation efforts.

Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity said Brown is conflating dead trees with wildfire risk when there isn’t a clear connection. He said maintaining forests for wildlife habitat is crucial in dealing with the effects of climate change.

“This oversimplifies a process and a look at the forest that could confound meaningful ways to manage our forests,” Nowicki said.

The national conservation group also questioned the need to suspend state environmental laws, which require public input.

Under Brown’s proclamation, the state authorizes agencies to contract more with wood-burning power plants to generate electricity and suspends the competitive bidding process.

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