It’s already been 10 years since Northern New Mexico saw its piñon trees take a major hit from tiny bark beetles. Yet, our trees are under attack again. While a new epidemic is not likely to be as bad as the last round, observers with the US Forest Service and in the tree-care industry say bug infestations are killing piñon—and this time juniper—in notable numbers.
Populations of twig beetles and bark beetles have surged in the region, causing an uptick in tree deaths. The US Forest Service is midway through its annual aerial photography project, but already they can see trouble.
“It appears to me that this is significant,” says Debra Allen-Reid, supervisory entomologist with agency’s Forest Health New Mexico zone. “We are starting to see quite a bit of mortality. We don’t have figures yet because we are still flying.”
The problem isn’t relegated to the dense National Forest, either. Jeff Freeman, a tree-care specialist at Tree Technologies, agrees that this season’s problem isn’t as severe as the one a decade ago, but says he’s seeing the die-off all over the Santa Fe area.
“The twig beetle normally doesn’t kill the tree, but this is such a bad infestation that it’s killing them,” he says, noting that in the last month, his family business has been busy with similar calls.
With such a wet monsoon season in the region, conventional wisdom might lead one to think trees have had enough water, but the experts say what really matters is how wet trees are in the spring, which has a direct relationship to snowpack levels.