Western Bark Beetle Strategy Frequently Asked Questions
- Why are the beetles at epidemic levels?
Forest history and management have influenced recent bark beetle outbreaks. In some areas, over the past century natural disturbances and human activities have produced large areas of host trees that are very similar in size and age, an environment ripe for bark beetle outbreak.
In addition, substantial changes in the climate have occurred in the interior west, such as long duration drought and warmer winters. These changes have altered the beetle’s life cycle. The bark beetle is native to the inter mountain west, however certain factors have created an outbreak across western North America that is the largest and most severe in recorded history. Elevated temperatures associated with climate change, particularly when there are consecutive warm years, can speed up reproductive cycles and reduce cold-induced mortality. Shifts in precipitation patterns and associated drought can also influence bark beetle outbreak dynamics by weakening trees and making them more susceptible to bark beetle attacks.
- Would more money help?
The strategy identifies the extent of the safety, recovery and resiliency needs and the projected capability of the agency (see page 19 of the strategy). The agency has developed a set of priorities to address safety, recovery and resilience to be as responsive as possible within the current budget environment. The Forest Service will respond the highest priorities within the budget it is appropriated through Congress and working with our cooperative partners.
- How is the Forest Service deciding which areas to treat (remove trees)?
Protecting human health and safety is the Forest Service priority. The decision to remove trees must take into consideration both the health and safety of the public, as well as that of Forest Service employees. Priorities include: roads, trails and campgrounds that experience high public use; areas adjacent to communities and homes for protection from fire; and coordination of larger-scale projects with other governmental agencies and partners that identify and communicate risks to public safety and leverage treatments across boundaries.
Additional priorities include recovery and forest resiliency. Effective recovery improves watershed health, wildlife habitat and water quality and creates more resilient forests following infestation, as well as provides benefits above and beyond what would be expected if nature was allowed to take its course. Active forest management can increase the resiliency of forests not yet infested by bark beetles. Thinning young stands to decrease basal area and creating a diversity of age classes over time can mitigate potential catastrophic beetle losses. Species and age diversity are key elements of a forest’s resiliency to insects, diseases and wildfire. Managing for resiliency can reduce the environmental, health and safety impacts of beetle infestation.
- What is the Forest Service doing to keep forest visitors safe?
With an infestation of this size, it is impossible to completely remove all potentially hazardous trees. Falling trees are always a risk in the forest, however, the large number of trees falling on a daily basis create particularly hazardous conditions. The Forest Service is removing beetle-killed trees that provide the greatest health and safety risk. Areas where removal of hazardous trees is not possible will be considered for closure. Forest visitors are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and to avoid dense patches of dead trees.
- Do beetle-killed trees really represent a greater fire hazard?
This is an area of some debate. As the infestation moves across the landscape over time, fuel loads and the type of fire risk change. We do know that managing forests to increase species and age diversity reduces the chances of large scale wildfires. Research on the beetle’s impact on the fire regime is ongoing.