Spruce bark beetle-killed trees stand in the boreal forest along Knik-Goose Bay Road in Wasilla, Alaska, on 5 June 2018. Photo: Loren Holmes / ADN

By Zaz Hollander
1 October 2018

PALMER (Anchorage Daily News) – A beetle infestation already decimating Susitna Valley spruce trees worsened sharply this summer.

Spruce beetles killed trees across nearly 558,000 acres of forest this year and mostly in Mat-Su, according to an update released Monday by the U.S. Forest Service and Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

That brings the total area hit by Alaska spruce beetles to nearly 1 million acres since the outbreak started in 2016. It's increased twofold every year.

Researchers also say the numbers don't necessarily reflect the total acreage killed by beetles, just those spotted during aerial surveys.

Spruce beetles are native to Alaska and outbreaks have occurred throughout history, researchers say. The beetles thrive in warmer conditions, and Alaska is experiencing higher temperatures amid climate change.

The current outbreak could have years to go, a federal scientist said. The worst one in recent history lasted through most of the 1990s and munched across 4 million acres of trees.

Acres of spruce beetle damage in Southcentral Alaska forests, 2015-2018. Graphic: Kevin Powell / Anchorage Daily News

Warm, dry summers and mild winters ahead could allow the beetles to complete a life cycle in one year instead of two, said Liz Graham, a Forest Service entomologist.

"That contributes to increased damage levels," Graham said. "This may just be the beginning." [more]

Beetle damage skyrockets to nearly a million acres in Southcentral Alaska

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