California has an estimated 102 million dead trees in its forests, something that officials call a wildfire and public safety risk. Last fall when the count stood at just 40 million, Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency ​and ​ordered state agencies to clear the hazards. Scientists say five years of drought are to blame for much of the destruction. The lack of rain has put California’s trees under considerable stress, making them more susceptible to the organisms, such as beetles, that can kill them. Unusually high temperatures have added to the trees’ demand for water, exacerbating an already grim situation. While it is sad to see so much forest lost, including some of the grand old trees that have been around for hundreds of year, the die-off is proving to be a great opportunity for the people clearing them out. Local counties, the U.S. Forest Service, Caltrans, Cal Fire, Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are spending millions of dollars to ensure that dead and dying trees don’t lead to traffic obstructions, fires, damaged homes or injuries. Then there are the homeowners and companies in the mountains whose operations are at risk from the dead trees. The really ancient, gigantic trees in particular require the right tools and a trained crew to bring them down. Crew members are making as much as $20 an hour, a good wage for the employees that tend to be mostly young men in their early 20s an​d​ straight out of high​ ​school. The companies running the crews are charging as much as $2,000 a day for each one. Caltrans has paid a contractor $2.6 million to remove 2,600 dead trees along state highway 168. In total, they have identified 14,000 that need to be removed. One retired tree cutter recently told The LA Times that he wished he was younger – “I’d be a millionaire in two years and retire in five.” And the boom probably isn’t going to be over anytime soon. Even if the state sees a deluge of moisture this winter, experts say it will not be able to stop the tree losses. In fact, if the drought ended tomorrow, the mass die-off would probably continue for another year or two at least due to the damage they’ve already been subjected to. (Source: California Farm Bureau)