Gov. Janet Napolitano signed a proclamation Thursday declaring a state of emergency in Arizona as a result of the devastation caused by the growing pine bark beetle infestation and the simultaneous threat of fire in the areas affected by the beetle.
"This will enable us to apply for federal funds to help thin out those dead trees," Napolitano told the Roundup. "We're asking for $232 million dollars from the feds for that -- half from FEMA and half from the Department of Agriculture, which, of course, is where the Forest Service is located."
The declaration follows resolutions passed in six counties -- Apache, Cochise, Gila, Graham, Greenlee and Navajo -- and the forested communities of Camp Verde, Clarkdale, Crown King, Flagstaff and South Tucson, proclaiming an emergency and seeking the assistance of the state. Napolitano said she also received 1,300 e-mails from Pine and Strawberry residents last week asking her to take action.
"They were very helpful in making my decision," the governor said. "I hear you loud and clear, and we are doing everything we can to keep your communities safe."
The aid money, which would be used to reduce fuels on more than 230,000 acres of federal, tribal, state and private lands in and around Arizona's most threatened communities, transportation and utility corridors, is not automatic.
"We've been in touch with our entire congressional delegation to tell them what we will be asking for -- that I will be sending them each a letter asking them to help pry this money loose," Napolitano said. "We need it now."
The governor also signed an executive order establishing the science-based Arizona Forest Health Advisory Council and the Governor's Forest Health Oversight Council, which further implements her "Action Plan for Arizona" released last month.
"What they are to do," she said, "is give me a science-based analysis of where we need to start, where we need to thin, how deep in the forest we need to thin, and really try to get us out of this kind of false dichotomy between loggers and environmentalists and get into, ‘Look we have to restore the forest. How do we do this in a scientifically valid way.'"
Bark beetles have thus far caused irreparable damage to private, state, tribal and federal forested land.
"What already has been destroyed is about 800,000 acres, with the Department of Agriculture estimating that by the end of the calendar year there will be well over 1 million acres destroyed by the bark beetle," Napolitano said. "And nearly all of that is in northern Arizona."
The governor said there is no magic bullet for attacking the bark beetles.
"We have the infestation because of the drought," she said. "Once the drought ends, the infestation should dissipate greatly, but I don't know that we're looking at any way of kicking them out other than killing the trees."
Over 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 known as the ips bark beetle.
"It's about the size of a match head, and it's shiny black to dark brown in color," said Bob Celaya, forest health specialist for the Arizona State Land Department.
Once a tree becomes infested, it is too late to save it, according to information released by the Tonto Natural Resource Conservation District.