The Grand Canyon-Tusayan area is just beginning to see the impacts of a bark beetle epidemic that has devastated Arizona over the past year.
Tom DeGomez, University of Arizona health specialist, talks about bark beetles to a crowd of about 45 people Thursday at the Squire Inn.
During an informational meeting Thursday night in Tusayan, close to 50 residents showed up to hear what might happen next and what could be done to battle the pesky bugs.
"It’s not nearly as bad as Williams or Flagstaff ... but the potential is here," Tusayan district ranger Rick Stahn said. "We’re really concerned about our strategy for next summer. It’s going to be tough."
Mother Nature could help the situation by soaking the forest with snow or rain. But now that the area is entering the fifth or sixth year of a prolonged drought, even moderate amounts of rainfall won’t help much.
"We’ve had abnormally warm weather," said John Anhold, a forest health specialist and entomologist with the Forest Service. "February and March can be big precipitation months and there’s still hope if we get moisture. But regardless of precipitation, there could still be considerable (tree) mortality that would occur."
Bark beetle damage can easily be seen along the highway. Motorists can pull off the road, peel back bark on a tree and spot the insects. In fact, Thursday’s speakers had bark samples in hand that had been collected on the way to Tusayan.
"The trees need time to respond," Anhold added about needed rain. "It’s going to take a little time to respond to the moisture. It’s a drought-driven scenario."
Anhold said the winter’s cold weather won’t do much to the beetles. Sub-zero temperatures would be necessary to have much of an impact.
"You really need it to get very cold, 20 to 30 degrees below zero," Anhold said. "When the cold can hurt the most is in the fall or spring, instead of the winter when they’re pretty tough."
A cold snap this spring could help. That’s when the bugs will re-energize from dormancy and take flight from tree to tree.
Those in attendance at Thursday night’s meeting saw a fascinating presentation by Tom DeGomez, University of Arizona health specialist. DeGomez gave an overview of the bark beetle problem, Anhold gave a more specific perspective of what’s going on and silviculturist Chris Worthington described local infestation.
"No matter where you live, there’s some bark beetle damage throughout the state," DeGomez said. "Stressed trees are a good host for these beetles."
DeGomez said the drought likely precipitated the beetle outbreak, saying January to June last year was the driest six-month period in recorded weather history. And in the five-year period beginning in the late 1990s, the area has experienced its lowest rainfall averages since records have been kept.
In information prepared for those in attendance, DeGomez said there are two main reasons why bark beetles are killing so many trees.
"The forest has too many trees and the trees are very dry," he said. "Overcrowded forest conditions coupled with drought lead to the high probability of beetle attack."
The Tusayan Ranger District is just beginning to see impacts of the bark beetles. DeGomez said a lot of pinyon damage can be seen off U.S. 180 between Flagstaff and Valle as well as ponderosa pine damage off State Route 64 approaching Tusayan.
Anhold went over aerial survey maps that were done of the area last summer and on Nov. 13. On those maps, general bark beetle activity in various pockets could easily be seen.
"We’ve had quite a lot more (mortality) than when we were here a few months ago," Anhold said, referring to a Tusayan beetle meeting held in late November.
The Forest Service has hosted other bark beetles meetings in other northern Arizona communities. An event in Prescott drew an estimated 350 people, but that is an area that has been hit especially hard.
As for Kaibab National Forest, fire information officer Jackie Denk has mentioned tree-thinning projects as a necessary method of combatting the problem.
Forest officials have methods and ideas to help landowners protect their trees. For information, contact Denk at 928-635-5607.