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California Drought Pushes Estimate of Dead Trees Past 100 Million

FILE - This photo shows patches of dead and dying trees near Cressman, Calif., June 6, 2016.

The California drought has significantly increased the number of dead trees in the state, which in turn increases the risk of wildfires, U.S. officials said Friday.

Officials said the latest aerial survey by the U.S. Forest Service showed an alarming increase in dead trees, which they estimated to total 102 million, an increase of 36 million since the government's last survey in May.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack called on Congress to spend more money on forestry management, which he argued could reduce the amount needed to fight fires.

"These dead and dying trees continue to elevate the risk of wildfire, complicate our efforts to respond safely and effectively to fires when they do occur, and pose a host of threats to life and property," Vilsack said in a statement.

Scientists say five years of drought in California caused much of the tree die-off.

California forestry officials argue that the dead trees help to spread fires more quickly. Some environmentalists argue, however, that tree die-off is part of a healthy life cycle for forests and question whether there is a correlation between high numbers of dead trees and fire severity.