Show Low and Pinetop-Lakeside have passed new ordinances requiring residents to clean up their property, and a Gila County official thinks the Rim country should take action too.
"I'm not necessarily in favor of tough ordinances," Gila County extension agent Chris Jones said, "but something's got to budge. It's that serious in northern Gila County too."
The Show Low ordinance requires private property owners to remove dead trees within two months after a complaint is filed. The ordinance defines trees infected with diseases, parasites and insects like bark beetles as public nuisances.
"That's one way Show Low has decided to deal with it," Jones said. "Northern Gila County is not immune or any different. We're just as dense and there's just as much mortality going on."
Jones singled out the Pine-Strawberry area as especially dangerous.
"We know that the Pine-Strawberry area is a powder keg," he said. "It's ready to go, so if somebody doesn't take the initiative to start getting those communities cleaned out, a big fire is going to take them out."
The Pinetop-Lakeside ordinance gives homeowners two years to remove all flammable forest materials within 10 feet of homes, two more years to expand the cleared area to 30 feet, and two additional years to thin land within 100 feet of homes.
Jones likes the idea of placing more responsibility on homeowners.
"It's their property isn't it," he asked. "Whose got more power to do it? When I do my education programs I say, ‘If not you, then who?'"
Jones said there are at least two reasons why the Rim country is lagging behind Show Low:
- "They got started with this project a few years earlier than we did," he said. "Then they had the Rodeo Fire, which brought them to the realization of how serious it is."
- "Show Low has the power within its municipality, but they can't do anything about people living in the county lands around it," he said.
But even within municipalities, ordinances must have teeth. "The question is are they prepared to enforce it?" Jones asked. "One of the things they usually do is say, ‘We'll put a lien on somebody's property,' and typically the fire department or municipality or county doesn't have the money in their pocket to back a lien. As far as taking somebody to court, what are they going to threaten them with? I have no idea."
Insurance companies have also been getting into the act, threatening to cancel the policies of homeowners whose properties are overgrown.
"The insurance companies are saying, ‘We're not going to renew your policy unless you take these steps,'" he said.
Due primarily to a protracted drought, the bark beetle has killed an estimated 1.1 million acres of Arizona's forests over the last two years.
The bark beetle dilemma
What is it?
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 does it look 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 does it operate?
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.