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Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thrive

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Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thrive

Postby ERIC » Mon Mar 23, 2015 6:33 pm

Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thrive in drought

BY LEWIS GRISWOLD
The Fresno BeeMarch 22, 2015


• The drought is spurring bark beetle populations in the Sierra, leading to massive tree die-offs.

• The dead trees are raising concerns about potentially massive wildfires.

• Loggers blame the Forest Service for not allowing more thinning operations.

———



PINEHURST — A massive die-off of pine trees in the southern Sierra Nevada caused by beetles attacking drought-stressed trees is turning forests brown and creating a fire tinderbox.

From El Portal in Mariposa County to Kernville in Kern County and beyond, stands of dead trees are striking fear in the hearts of mountain residents.

“You drive around and it’s all around us,” said Lee Duncan, who lives in Miramonte in Fresno County near Pinehurst. “It’s like a gasoline can everywhere.”

About the only hope in halting the die-off is for the drought to end, an unlikely occurrence this year as winter ended with perhaps the lowest Sierra snowpack on record.

As a fourth year of drought looms, mountain residents are stuck with the cost of removing dead trees next to their homes and loggers fault the U.S. Forest Service for not allowing them to thin forests. But forest managers say the tree die-off might help Mother Nature.

El Portal resident Jerry Rupert knows all too well the dangers of forest fire. The El Portal fire that burned about 4,700 acres in and around Yosemite National Park last year started behind his home.

Now Rupert warily watches the mountainside across from his home as more pine trees turn brown in a steep river canyon leading to the nearby community of Yosemite West.

“If we get a lightning strike over there, that whole hill is going to go up,” Rupert said. “All it has to do is hit one of those dead trees in there — and there are hundreds of them. It’s not going to be pretty.”

Rupert said he wants the U.S Forest Service to cut down the dead pines to reduce the chances of one being struck by lightning.

“The woods are sick,” he said. “They need help.”

The sheer number of dead trees is making forestry and fire officials even more nervous about the upcoming fire season.

“There’s thousands of acres” of dead and dying trees on public and private lands, Sequoia National Forest Fire Chief Brent Skaggs. “It’s going to be a bigger problem than we see.”

He said fire managers should operate on the assumption that almost every fire is a severe threat and attack with everything they can: “A quick suppression response is what’s going to save us.”

Tulare County Supervisor Steve Worthley likened the die-off itself to a forest fire.

“This is every bit as catastrophic,” said Worthley, who owns property near Pinehurst.

He was among 100 people who attended a community meeting here last week at which forest officials fielded questions and offered advice about how residents can protect themselves.

Pinehurst resident Dan Slebiss said he cut down six large Ponderosa pines on his 5-acre property and has seven more to go.

“We’re lucky we haven’t had any fire,” Slebiss said. “If everything goes dead, it’s going to be a bad place to be.”

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection — Cal Fire — is advising homeowners to remove dead and dying trees near their homes.

“Clear the brush,” said Jim McDougald, Cal Fire planning and protection chief. “If it’s within 100 feet of a house, we can require removal. We are actively doing inspections now.”

Removing trees on private property often...

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/22/444 ... rylink=cpy
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ERIC
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Re: Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thriv

Postby gary c. » Mon Mar 23, 2015 6:54 pm

Coming over Walker Pass last weekend my buddy and I were amazed at how many trees were completely dead. Entire canyons were nothing but standing dead timber. If we get a series of thunder storms under the right conditions all of California is likely to burn.
"On this proud and beautiful mountain we have lived hours of fraternal, warm and exalting nobility. Here for a few days we have ceased to be slaves and have really been men. It is hard to return to servitude."
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Bark beetles not adding to U.S. West's wildfire woes: study

Postby BSquared » Wed Mar 25, 2015 10:17 am

Kind of an interesting counterpoint to this discussion here: http://in.reuters.com/article/2015/03/24/us-usa-colorado-wildfires-idINKBN0MK2PH20150324.
The upshot is that at this point in time, anyway, beetle damage doesn't seem to be increasing fire frequency, although it might be increasing the intensity of the fires that do start. What's driving the whole thing, of course, is the warming climate.
—B²
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Re: Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thriv

Postby markskor » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:16 am

Not mentioned but also specific to Yosemite today - the lodgepole needle miner moth.
http://www.us-parks.com/yosemite-nation ... miner.html
While also destructive short term, "the lodgepole needle miner plays a key role in lodgepole pine forest succession and regeneration at Yosemite."
Mountainman who swims with trout
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Re: Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thriv

Postby ericZ » Wed Mar 25, 2015 11:33 pm

How did you like my photos and little video? :)

-Eric Zamora
Fresno, CA.
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Re: Sierra Nevada pine tree die-off worsens as beetles thriv

Postby BSquared » Thu Mar 26, 2015 3:28 am

ericZ wrote:How did you like my photos and little video? :)

-Eric Zamora
Fresno, CA.

Excellent! That forester was a great subject for the interview, too.
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