Tree mortality resulting from the drought of 2012 to 2016 was unprecedented. Here is a recent summary from the Tree Mortality Data Network in California Agriculture gives an overview of the size and effects of the mass tree mortality event. This video by CalEco explaining the details is also great: Ponderosa Pine Mortality, the Western Pine Beetle and Drought.
Trees died throughout the state but especially in the southern Sierra Nevada. Trees weakened by drought could not defend themselves from beetles, who burrowed under the bark and laid eggs. The larvae hatched and their burrow killed and girdled the trees. Other trees died directly as a result to drought.
University of California and other researchers have been collaborating to measure tree mortality in the Sierra Nevada and identify the causes and future trajectory of affected stands. For information including data summaries and events, please click on the Tree Mortality Data Collection Network page.
Bark beetles have had massive outbreaks throughout western North America in recent years. More information on the causes, control, and consequences of bark beetle outbreaks can be found in this August 2017 webinar by Dr. Jodi Axelson, UC Cooperative Extension forest health specialist.
Keeping Trees Healthy
Keeping trees healthy so they can fight off bark beetle attack is the best way to help them. Bark Beetles of California
Plant a variety of species adapted to site: In general, native species will withstand the extremes of climate better. Also, many insects attack only a specific tree. Therefore, having a variety of trees means they won't all be attacked at the same time.
Thin / promote healthiest individuals: Many Sierra forests are overstocked after 100 years of fire suppression. Thinning out a forest allows more sun and water for the remaining trees, which will be healthier and better able to repel insect attacks.
Water: Watering trees helps them fight off beetle attacks. Usually this is only feasible for high value trees near the home that can be reached by watering systems. Use of Greywater in Urban Landscapes in California
Chemical treatments: Several pesticides have been shown to be effective at preventing western pine beetle infestation. Carbaryl provides two years of protection and pyrethroids provides one year of protection. They must be applied by licensed pesticide applicators before the trees are attacked. Using Insecticide to Protect Conifers from BarkBeetle Attack
Diagnosing tree attacks
Identify the species of insect attacking a tree:
1) Identify the species of tree (some trees have few or only one species that attack them)
2) Determine the location of insect attack on the stem. For example on large pines, engraver beetles attack near the top, red turpentine beetles attack the bottom of the trunk and others attack the middle of the stem.
3) Identify the pattern of galleries under bark which is individual to each bark beetle species
Dealing with dead trees
Dead trees pose both a safety and fire hazard depending on where they are. Dead and dying trees near a home or important infrastructure should be removed quickly. This is often a costly and difficult thing to do.
Most beetles, including the western pine beetle, feed only on live trees. Therefore they have usually left the tree before it appears completely dead. However, pine engraver beetles, which kills trees from the top down, can breed in dead or dying trees for up to 5 weeks after they have been felled. Therefore its important to avoid letting slash or green logs accumulate near living trees. Instead, logging debris should be: chipped, cut into smaller pieces (> 4“ in diameter and 3' long) and scattered (lop and scatter), piled and burned, crushed and mashed into the soil, removed from site, or wrapped in clear plastic for up to 5 weeks. Controlling Bark Beetles in Wood Residue and Firewood
Replanting after Tree Removal
Replanting after dead tree removal should be carefully considered. This article about how to approach replanting may be useful. Replanting after tree removal article. This brochure is focused on giving replanting advice for homeowners and neighborhood residents whose trees have died. UCCE Central Sierra Master Gardeners - What to Plant After Tree Loss
The University of California has collaborated with the California Society of American Foresters, Cal Fire and the Natural Resources Conservation Service to reach out to landowners affected by tree mortality through workshops and educational materials.
2018 Workshops Series
- Friday, March 16, 2018 inn Mariposa, CA
- Friday, March 9, 2018 in Sonora, CA
- Wednesday, March 7, 2018 in Placerville, CA
2018 Workshop Presentations
- Susie Kocher, UC Cooperative Extension, Tree Mortality in the Sierra Nevada
- Gary Rynearson, WM Beatty and Associates, Reforestation on Private Lands Webinar
- Richard Harris, NorCal SAF, Reforestation at the Landscape Scale Involving Multiple Landowners
- Guy Anderson, CalFire, Reforestation Strategies in the Age of Drought and Climate Uncertainty
- Brian Mattos, CalFire, Tree Hazard Awareness for Forest Workers
- Mark Egbert, El Dorado County Resource Conservation District, Reforestation Basics
- Tom Smith, CalFire, Diseases of Conifer Regeneration
- Beverly Bulaon, US Forest Service R5, Insects and Seedlings - Identification and Care
- Guy Anderson, CalFire, Controlling Seedling & Resprouting Brush
- Mary Huggins, CalFire, CalFire's California Forest Improvement Program
- Chris Zimney, Natural Resources Conservation Service, NRCS Forestry Environmental Quality Incentive Program
2017 Workshop series:
- Wednesday, May 31st in Jackson, CA
- Thursday, April 27th, in Oakhurst, CA
- Friday, April 7th, 2017 in Sonora, CA
- Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 in Mariposa, CA
- Saturday, February 11th, 2017 in Auberry, CA
2017 Workshop Presentations
- Dr. Jodi Axelson/Susie Kocher, UC Berkeley Forest mortality and regeneration - Life after death (1)
- Mark Egbert, El Dorado Resource Conservation District Reforestation basics
- Zsolt Katay, CalFire California Forest Improvement Program
- Guy Anderson, CalFire Control of Sprouting Brush
- Dorus Van Goidsenhoven, CalFire Selection of Nursery stock (Tuolumne County)
- Mary Huggins, CalFire CFIP FAQ for Potential Applicants April 2017
Bark beetle resources
Pest ID websites: