Beetles hit park trees
Like miniature professional wrestlers, bark beetles are taking out Ponderosa pines tag-team style in Empire Mine State Historic Park.
Ips beetles are killing treetops, Western pine beetles – the most damaging species – are munching away at pines’ mid-sections, and turpentine beetles are attacking trees at their base.
The beetle problem is worse now than its been in decades, officials say, because of last year’s dry weather, which weakened trees’ defenses.
Park officials plan to battle back soon by having infested trees cut down. That way, they hope to keep the beetle problem from getting out of hand and spreading to healthy pines, including those on adjacent properties.
“We’re not out to log; that’s not what we’re doing. We’re trying to head off a problem before it gets worse,” said Pete Montgomery, assistant park resource ecologist. “This operation will not make money. This will cost us.”
Montgomery has counted 10 patches of beetle-infested trees at Empire Mine. He’s working to hire a contractor as soon as possible to selectively cut down beetle-killed trees.
Bark beetles can spread “exponentially” if infested trees aren’t removed, said Eric Carr, area forester for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
“A patch like that,” Carr said, pointing out a dozen, small trees Friday at Empire Mine “could go to 100 trees … and that’s what’s scary.”
“This is the worst (beetle infestation) I’ve seen since the drought situation in the late ’70s,” Carr said. “We have these patches all throughout the county, particularly below the 4,600 elevation.”
Montgomery expects Empire Mine will spend at least $5,000 having beetle infested trees removed.
A couple trees are about 30 inches in diameter at chest height, but many are small and of no value at the mill, Montgomery said.
“Even those bigger trees aren’t worth what they ordinarily would be worth,” he said, because beetles bring with them a fungus which causes wood to be stained blue. The “blue stain” cuts timber values by more than half.
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