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The Unexpected Natural Resource Scientists Say California Has Too Much Of

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With California enduring wildfires among a historic drought, researchers say the state might not be as stressed for water if it didn't have so many trees.

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University of California, Berkeley professor Scott Stephens told KCBS radio that having more trees increases the uptake of rain and groundwater and vice versa.

“Less tree cover also means less water usage,” he said.

Roger Bales, a hydrologist with the University of California, Merced, expressed similar sentiments to KQED radio.

“If there were half as many trees, would there be more runoff?” Bales asked.

Letting forest fires burn, Stephens said, would lead to an increase in ground water. He cited research in areas of Yosemite National Park that have undergone restoration and have seen more water as a result.

"We've also seen about a 20 percent increase in water yield from these acres with the same amount of water input," he told KNTV-TV of these areas where fires were allowed to burn themselves out naturally. "So there's really a 20 percent increase of water going down the mountain."

Watch KNTV's report:

Stephens told KCBS that fewer trees also allows snow to reach the ground, rather than sitting on the canopy where it can evaporate.

Other scientists though believe more trees removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere can help reduce the greenhouse gas that is linked to a warming climate and could lead to more drought-like conditions.

As of Monday a fire in Northern California had burned through 137 square miles — 18 percent of it was contained. Thus far, 10 homes were destroyed in the fire that began Sept. 13, but it threatens 12,000 others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Front page image via Shutterstock.

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