Utah’s trees are dying, and it isn’t from deforestation. The mountain pine beetle, Dendroctonus ponderosae, is making its way down the Rocky Mountain range and leaving devastation in its path. More than 4 million acres across the Rocky Mountains have been impacted, and the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service is stepping up and trying to stop the beetles’ population from growing.
The Engelmann spruce, one of Utah’s commercial value trees, has been affected drastically by the pine beetle. The National Forest Service estimates that, by the century’s end, the tree will be surviving only in the High Uintas Wilderness.
“We have seen dead trees all over the Uintas, and they looked horrible this year,” said Daniele Aranda, a WSU junior majoring in biology. “Screw the pine beetles. We want our awesome Utah mountains back.”
The National Wildlife Federation has put together a report named “They Came from Climate Change,” which features the pine bark beetle and other creatures that have benefited from climate change. The lack of severe winters in the past years has helped the beetle larva population level grow. Without freezing winters, almost all larvae have been able to survive the cold months.
Pine beetles begin by attacking trees on the lower 15 feet of the trunk and then working their way up. Infected trees can be identified by the presence of a pitch tube, which are created by the female beetles when they bore into the trees. Trees that have been infected show pitch tubes, masses that are cream to dark red in color.
Trees that have been infested start to lose color in their needles, changing from green to yellow-green, then red, and ending in brown when the tree finally dies. The trees do have a natural defense against the beetle, however. Some trees are able to produce enough resin to pitch out the beetles and prevent being infested.
“We have not seen any bark beetles here that we are aware of,” said Lorna Gerhed, an Ogden Nature Center employee.
Dead, dried-out trees mixed with a dry summer contribute to forest fires. A tactic being employed by the Forest Service called baiting, which draws the beetles to a designated area, allows for easy extermination.
“There were places with marked-off trees all over the mountains,” Aranda said. “It looked like they were trying to get rid of them or some type of testing.”
Christmas tree shopping is right around the corner, and the bark beetles haven’t affected the Christmas tree farming business in Utah.
“Through the years, we have seen some beetles,” said Ron Zollinger from the Zollinger Fruit and Tree Farm in Logan. “They haven’t affected our trees, but I’ve seen it at sites that I have been to.”
More information about the mountain pine beetle and other bark beetles is available at Barkbeetles.org.