Drought and dead trees add up to big fire risk for California in 2016

California's King Fire in 2014. Photo: USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is warning of a high risk of intense fires in 2016 thanks to a combination of ongoing drought and a large number of dead trees in the Sierra.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said during a briefing on the fire season in Washington, D.C., "“You’ve got 40 million dead trees. You’ve got 40 million opportunities for fire. You’re looking at a very serious situation.”

While fire is a natural occurance in California's open spaces, intense fires can have a number of bad consequences for birds and other wildlife. Not only can large swaths of habitat be wiped out, but the intensity of the blazes can actually cause the habitat to change type -- which leaves little opportunity for native birds to return.

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