While bark beetles seem to be doing less damage this year than last, the Town of Payson is sponsoring a day-long community seminar to help the public address the problem and other forest-health issues.
Forest Health Specialist Bob Celaya of the Arizona State Land Department will lead the seminar at 9 a.m. July 28 at Town Hall. The event will include an afternoon field trip to a site where bark beetles have been at work.
"(Payson Town Manager) Rich Underkofler has gotten a lot of calls about bark beetle activity in your area, and so have I," Celaya said. "Last year was exceptional for beetle activity, and we believe it was tied to the drought and the density of the forest so many trees are competing for moisture."
While it's too early to be sure, he said, activity seems to have returned to near normal this year.
"Although the forest is not in the greatest health, activity seems to be down quite a bit," he said. "Most of the trees that are dying in the area are from last year's problem."
A new pest, however, is threatening juniper and cypress trees in the area.
"The juniper-cypress beetle operates on those trees in much the same way the bark beetle does on pines," Celaya said, "so we'll also be talking about those."
While he hasn't been in the Rim country for more than a month, Celaya said the last time he was here he saw new bark beetle activity in "a couple of ponderosas and pi in town," and that he's sure there are probably more.
Experts now think the bark beetle performs a valuable service, Celaya said.
"When people see dying trees in their yards, they think it's the end of the world," he said. "But bark beetles can actually be beneficial to the health of the forest from a thinning standpoint."
"Now that we don't have the lightning-caused fires we used to have, the forest doesn't get thinned out naturally the way it once did."
Besides drought and forest density, other factors that contributed to last year's infestation include:
A mild winter in 1999-2000, which allowed a larger number of insects to survive;
Widespread breakage of ponderosa pines by snow, which provided an additional food source for the beetles, especially in the Pine-Strawberry area;
And widespread construction activity, which provided large amounts of fresh pine debris and damaged and weakened remaining pines.
The seminar also will feature:
Bob Ortlund of the Payson Ranger District, who will discuss U.S. Forest Service activities in the area;
Chris Jones of the Gila County Cooperative Extension Service, who will address fire protection issues;
And Payson Fire Chief John Ross, who will make a presentation on wildland-urban interface projects.
To attend, call the Payson town clerk's office 474-5242, Ext. 240 and make a reservation by Thursday.
Bark beetles 101
What it is
More than 2,000 species of bark beetles, which are also known as engraver beetles, have been identified. The one that affects the ponderosa pines in this area is often referred to as the ips bark beetle. Its scientific name is Ips paraconfusus.
What it looks like
"It's about the size of a match head, and it's shiny black to dark brown in color," said Forest Health Specialist Bob Celaya of the Arizona State Land Department. "A distinguishing feature is a noticeable depression at the rear end which is bordered on each side with three to six tooth-like spines."
How it operates
Both the male and female ips bore into a tree and form an egg chamber. The spines are used to push red sawdust out of the tree as they go.
After the eggs hatch, the larvae bore out from the chamber, forming a series of tunnels.
The damage it does
The early indications that a tree might be infested include piles of red sawdust at the base of the tree and soft pink to reddish-colored pitch tubes about one-quarter inch in diameter in the top one-third of larger trees.
The damage starts in the top, or crown, of the tree and then works its way down, eventually killing the tree.
What to do
It is important, Celaya said, to remove and properly dispose of dead trees if they pose a hazard to people, structures and vehicles. It's also a good idea to cover diseased wood with a large plastic tarp once it's cut down so the bark beetles still inside die.
"These beetles have wing covers and they can fly," Celaya said. "In fact they can fly for miles, and that's how they travel from one host to the next."
Celaya also recommends proper thinning of additional pines in overcrowded stands, which reduces the likelihood of future bark beetle infestations while reducing the chance of forest fire.
Pines that have suffered branch breakage due to heavy snows and other causes should be treated as soon as possible to prevent an increase in bark beetle populations and to reduce branch and trunk decay. Branches 3 inches or less in diameter should be pruned close to the trunk or connecting branch. Large branches should be cut in stages to reduce the possibility of tearing a jagged strip of bark beneath the cut.
Celaya also suggests that property owners water valuable trees slowly and deeply in the late spring and early summer until the summer monsoons are well established.