Mark Utzig paces through Tannenbaum Acres, a Janesville, Wis., tree farm, last fall. The high temperatures and record drought of summer 2012 wreaked havoc on the farm. "Normally we lose 5% of the trees for various reasons. This year, it was 95%." / Mark Kauzlarich, The Janesville Gazette, AP
Hundreds of thousands of trees died in the historic drought of 2012, and many more will succumb in the next few years, scientists say.
"This is just beginning," says Janna Beckerman, a plant pathologist at Indiana's Purdue University. "I suspect we'll see trees still dying for the next two or three years."
Indiana's white cedar and Florida cypress trees began dying in late summer, she says, and Alberta and Colorado blue spruce are succumbing now.
Trees affected by a 2010-11 drought still are dying across Louisiana, says Keith Hawkins, a Louisiana State University AgCenter forester. Some trees "reached a threshold from which they can't recover - especially older, larger trees," he says.
About 301 million trees died in rural Texas because of that drought, the Texas A&M Forest Service says.
Tree deaths are dismaying some communities:
O'Brien is hesitant to plant new trees because "we have not really left the drought yet," he says. When he does replant, he's considering less vulnerable species such as the Kentucky coffeetree.
Ongoing damage to trees stressed by drought can be caused by insects and diseases that attack weakened trees, says Laurie Stepanek, a forest health specialist for the Nebraska Forest Service. She's helping conduct tree care workshops across the state this month and tells participants to water trees and use organic mulch to keep them hydrated.
"Even if conditions return to normal, the trees will still be suffering," she says.
A drought outlook released Jan. 17 by the federal Climate Prediction Center projected that drought conditions are likely to remain entrenched through April and could get worse in the Plains, Rockies and Southwest.
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