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Insects, disease making Washington forests unhealthy

In 2019, there were 658,000 acres of sick and dying trees in Washington as a result of insects and disease.

KITTITAS COUNTY, Wash. — The eastern half of Washington has nearly 3 million acres of unhealthy forest, according to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources.

Unhealthy covers a wide range of concerns, including forests that are overgrown. It also includes forests that are infested with bugs and fungi.

In 2015, aerial surveys found 338,000 acres of sick and dying trees. By 2019, that number had nearly doubled to 658,000 acres of trees that are dead and dying as the result of insects and disease. Survey flights were not made in 2020 because of COVID-19. 

On the west side of the state, a big enemy is a fungus called "root rot," which is killing trees by cutting off their ability to absorb nutrients. They lose their tops and then topple over, unable to stand with their roots gone.  

RELATED: Increasing number of western Washington wildfires a worrying trend amid stressed forests

And as one infestation completes its natural cycle, another one starts up. The fear is that process will be made worse as climate change weakens the ability of trees to withstand attacks.

That includes attacks from wildfire as too many dead trees can become fuel for the blaze.

RELATED: 'Putting our way of life at risk': Gov. Inslee declares Washington drought emergency