Tuesday, November 29, 2011

State scrambles to fight massive tree die-offs

So many pine, fir and spruce trees in the Northwest are riddled with bugs and disease that major tree die-offs are expected to rip through a third of Eastern Washington forests — an area covering nearly 3 million acres — in the next 15 years, according to new state projections.

Because Washington's forests are deteriorating so quickly, the state commissioner of public lands last week said he'll appoint an emergency panel of scientists and foresters to seek ways to stabilize or reverse the decline.

The problem, as The Seattle Times reported earlier this month, is largely centered on tree-killing scourges such as the mountain pine beetle, which is spreading rapidly and getting into ever higher-elevation trees such as the troubled whitebark pine.

The number of acres of trees damaged in the past decade by diseases such as blister rust and invasions of western spruce budworm and bark beetles is more than twice what it was in the 1990s — and three times greater than in the 1980s. more