Tree Mortality Mapping

Severe pest and drought-driven mortality have taken a dramatic toll on the forests of the Sierras and in forests across the American West.

The US Forest service estimated over 150 million trees have died in the past 10 years to pests and drought, exacerbating current environmental stresses, which are expected to lead to increased wildfire risk. A preventative, targeted approach to dead tree removal could reduce the potential economic and environmental costs of these increasingly severe wildfires.

The iconic Sierra Nevada ecoregion is host to frequent, large wildfires over an increasingly long fire season, which could be further exacerbated by the recent drought-induced die-off. Sources: USFS, CALFIRE.

But firefighters and forest managers have to focus on fighting fires today, limiting opportunities to take precautionary measures. A new approach to mortality mapping based on targeted, actionable & accessible data will be required to transform forest management in this arena.

By improving how we map and monitor tree mortality, we seek to improve sustainable harvesting practices and reduce future wildfire risk across the state of California.

In 2019, we completed our first California-wide tree mortality mapping effort, which was used to create the map below. Soon, we plan to scale our mapping operations to include other drought-stressed forests in the Pacific Southwest.

Results from our statewide tree mortality mapping algorithm, with dead trees in red. Click and drag to move the map, and use the map controls to zoom in and out. The map initially zooms to Bass Lake, south of Yosemite, where we performed field validation, as seen in in this blog post.

This project was funded by the USDA’s Small Business Innovation and Research program, and you can read more about the origin of this project here.

Contact us to access these data or to begin mapping in your area.