Bark beetle tree infestation<br>continues to concern locals

Although the bark beetle tree infestation problem in northern Arizona is much more visible in places like Prescott Valley or along the Mogollon Rim, there is still concern among Grand Canyon-Tusayan residents.

Tom DeGomez of the Coconino County Cooperative Extension office, left, points out bark beetles on a piece of bark he removed from a tree. (Photo by Jackie Denk/KNF)

Kaibab National Forest officials hosted an informational meeting Wednesday in Tusayan to go over the issue with locals. Jackie Denk, fire information officer, was pleased with the turnout which showed there really is concern from residents in the area.

"They asked a lot of questions about specific things they could do on their property," Denk said. "That includes watering their prized trees, you can do extra watering to help

those trees out. There are also some chemical sprays that can be used."

Tom DeGomez of the Coconino County Cooperative Extension office, went over the biology of the beetle, scope of the problem, control techniques and chemical prevention.

The problem, which has affected less than 1 percent of trees in the forest surrounding Tusayan, can be traced to two factors. The overly dense stand of trees found throughout the forest combined with the drought in recent years has made conditions favorable for bark beetle infestation.

As Denk indicated, local property owners can do some extra watering on the trees they really want to save. As for the chemical spraying, it is not a technique easily done and can be costly. Most people would need to hire a professional for spraying, which involves covering the entire tree and runs $60 to $80 per tree.

Chris Worthington, a silviculturist for the Williams-Tusayan ranger districts, talked about the infestation problem from a land management perspective.

"From a Forest Service perspective, the top priority is to continue the thinning program, which is focused in the wildland-urban interface areas near communities and around campgrounds," Denk said. "The reason for that being when there are too many trees, they’re all competing for resources. If you remove trees, the trees that remain will have more moisture to be able to pitch the beetles out, which is their natural defense mechanism against the beetles."

Worthington said chemical spraying options are not available to the forest and the major effort continues to be focused on thinning.

Nick Matiella of Sen. John McCain’s outreach staff was also on the agenda for the meeting to offer a legislative perspective of the issue.

The bark beetle problem could be around for some time to come. Denk said predicting an end to the crisis can’t be easily determined. Factors involving the weather will determine a lot of what could happen.

"We hope to see several years of good precipitation so that trees can regain their defense mechanism and the beetle population decline," Denk said. "So we’re not out of the woods yet. There’s a good chance we could see similar mortality levels in the upcoming year as this year, unfortunately."

The bark beetles are currently dormant for the winter. The insects will make their first flights this spring and widespread infestation could be the result.

The bark beetles will likely survive the winter months because temperatures do not get low enough in Arizona to kill them. The insects are native to the state.

"The beetle has always been here, it’s always been part of the ecosystem," Denk said. "The difference this year is we’ve had all these years of fire suppression and with the forest being overly dense and then the drought stressing these trees, it’s made them very vulnerable to beetle attacks."

The beetles have about four generations per year, so they do reproduce quickly.

John Anhold, forest entomologist, said Friday that mortality on the Tusayan Ranger District is likely less than 1 percent. Statewide, the ponderosa pine mortality is estimated at 1 to 3 percent.

Officials flew over Grand Canyon National Park in October to do an aerial survey. Anhold said there was little beetle activity in the park.

A flyover of the forest around Tusayan is planned for early next year. Anhold said at this point, most beetle activity seems to be in the pinyon and not the ponderosa pine.

For those who could not attend last week’s meeting but have questions about bark beetles, call Denk at 1-928-635-5607.

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