Hard to believe something so small can pose such a threat to California's big trees. But a bark beetle infestation is killing trees up and down the state and beyond. It is all part of the aftermath of the California drought as the state remains in a state of emergency.
“We’re going to lose our forests as we know them today," Tuolumne County Supervisor Randy Hanvelt said.
In his county there are dead trees as far as the eye can see.
"They are all beetle kill,” Hanvelt said.
The supervisor said his county is in a state of emergency.
“We’re seeing an ecosystem change before our very eyes on a pace and scale that we couldn't comprehend normally," he said.
With five years of drought, over-grown forests the bark beetle has thrived. The insect leaves a trail and dead trees behind.
“It start eating the camben layer of the tree that is where the flow of nutrients happens," Hanvelt said.
California Forestry Association VP of Public Resources, Steven Brink said the stressed trees try to fight the bug by releasing sap but most of the majestic pines are losing the fight.
"There are about 200-thousand acres of dead trees from the bark beetle," Brink said.
Millions of trees, gone.
"85 percent of ponderosa pines are dead, 75 percent of sugar pines are dead 40 percent of white firs are dead," Hanvelt added.
A devastation which Brink states can only be cured by water.
"When you have swarms of beetles there is nothing you can do except wait for rain," Brink said.
Beetle killed trees like this one are a big concern for Tuolumne County especially when they are surrounding homes. It can be very costly for homeowners. Hanvelt said it costs about 1-thousand dollars a tree. At this time he said the county and state can’t intervene in personal property but he is hoping the federal government will help soon. He is worried there will be no money and the problem will get bigger.
The process is natural, the bark beetle is doing his job. Hanvelt said if we managed our forests differently, prior to the drought, the insect wouldn’t be so successful so now it is everyone’s problem.
"If you drink the water and breathe the air in this state this is just as much of a problem for you as it is for me," he said.
CalTrans, CalFire, CalEPA and other agencies are currently helping out and clearing a lot of the public areas. Hanvelt said the tree mortality affects water transportation, power lines, lumber mills and tourism in his community. He is hoping the federal government will step in and help the community clear trees on private property.