Palabras Pintorescas - The attack of the bark beetle

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By Editha Bartley

The winds are less, and they are more-or-less warm, so my faithful dog companions and I have decided it is time to venture out into the forest once again. I hope it is between snowstorms, and, yes, there are still big snowdrifts on the shady side of the hills, but the big snowpacks needed to keep our mountains healthy and wet this summer still need lots of snow.

We don’t have to travel far into any forest around here to see radical damage, in more than one way. The bark beetles have really prospered during the drought. Thirteen trees, all pines in close proximity to each other, died this fall.

These trees in various sizes and apparently in good health could not fight off that tiny, almost microscopic beetle, and this deep clump of trees is almost in my back yard. Because they died so quickly I had to research the “why” of this phenomenon.

I have learned from our nearby forestry experts that almost all of our pines, firs, and spruces have their own bark beetles at work, but they survive and grow into old age because of adequate moisture. It takes snow and rain to cause the sap in these conifers to stay liquid enough to seal off and heal the damage done by the tiny beetles. Someone — who knows little about forestry — thought these dead pines had been sprayed with Roundup, of all things.

The newest enemy of these seemingly thriving forests are the high and erratic winds. Pines are snapped off, often high up, in all of our pastures. We lost three big ones just across the road from headquarters here recently in one small but fierce windstorm.

Seventy-two mile per hour winds can move anything not securely tied down. Some of these winds are mountain microbursts and actually are twisters, leaving some trees completely uprooted.

All of this makes me very aware of the fact that although we humans think we have a handle on the health of our forests, Mother Nature in a very brief period of time can undo or reroute any plans we might have. Obviously, some of these trees cannot be salvaged for firewood or lumber, and they will provide additional fuels, should a fire start in our forests.

Oh, yes, I again write about a problem and its many, many facets as it affects our lives. However, it affects every one of us in a very big way.

Our watersheds desperately need thinning because the chance of a catastrophic wildfire is now almost guaranteed by the folk who track such events. Hopefully the Gallinas watershed is high on every thinning list. And I salute our near neighbors as they continue to selectively thin their forests. This is now a real and vital community event.

I have now seen first hand what a tumbled and jumbled mess much of our forested area is, and I just hope the bark beetles’ song with be “Hark, people, don’t hesitate to cut down a tree.” The neighboring trees will only thrive when you do.

Editha Bartley  lives in Gascon in Mora County. She may be reached at 454-0563.