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Beetle-infested trees coming down

Photo by Allayana Darrow | Trees in the hills above Ashland infected with western pine beetles are slated to be removed the week of March 14.

ASHLAND — Trees in the hills above Ashland that are infected with western pine beetles are slated to be cut down and removed the week of March 14, according to the city.

The intersection at Terrace Street and Ashland Loop Road will close from 7 a.m. to about 5 p.m. for three days starting Monday, March 14. Nearby trails will remain closed until the weekend.

“We’re experiencing a die-off of pine trees,” a city news advisory said. “There are at least three epicenters of bark beetle-induced tree mortality, and probably many more single dead or dying trees scattered across the community.”

Drought-weakened trees are “easy targets” for western pine beetles, the news advisory said, and a major outbreak began last summer at the Red Queen trailhead next to the Crowson Reservoir tank. More than 50 pine trees have been documented as dead or dying on city property, plus 30 or more on three adjacent private lots.

“After consultation with a local forest entomologist and our city forestry consultant, we regret that infected trees have to be cut and removed, and some are large trees,” the advisory said.

Wildfire Division Chief Chris Chambers said residents can expect to see three to four log truck loads of trees leaving the site between Monday and Wednesday next week.

By cutting into the bark of some trees, the team discovered both overwintering adult beetles and larvae. With consistently warm weather, the larvae will mature and seek out green trees to attack, according to the advisory.

“Given the ongoing drought, it’s likely they’ll find weak trees on adjacent city and private properties to attack, perpetuating the die off,” the advisory said. “Western pine beetle can have as many as three generations per year, so we need to not only cut the trees, but remove all of the trunks away from the area to avoid a massive hatch of beetles this spring into summer.”

The advisory said despite these actions, tree mortality might continue in the coming year due to extended and severe drought, weakened trees and elevated beetle populations in the area. Some trees in the midst of a beetle attack appear mostly green with dead tops, and will require careful evaluation before being cut.

Standing dead trees and dropped limbs increase fire damage, placing neighboring homes at higher risk, the advisory said. The city is also obligated to remove trees that present a hazard to Red Queen Trail users and the water storage tank.

A contract logging operator will cut and remove trees, and another forestry crew will clean and burn branches and needles on burn days, according to the news advisory. The operation is expected to cause some soil disturbance that will be mitigated at works’ end.

“The wood will be hauled away on log trucks to be cut primarily for firewood and a small amount of salvageable lumber,” the advisory said. “The value of the wood is diminished by rot and a fungus that stains the wood blue.”

The logging operator will haul the wood to a firewood operation in White City, Chambers said.

For residents facing beetle infestation on their property, the best action during extended drought is to ensure that Ponderosa pines have “an infrequent and deep watering,” he said.

Using a soaker hose placed 10-15 feet from the trunk for an hour once per week allows the water to penetrate where the roots can use it and can help keep the tree healthy, he said.

“Some of the reason why these trees are being attacked is because they’re under all this drought stress for the past couple years of drought and the ongoing drought this winter as well,” Chambers said. “The trees are coming out of dormancy now and finding that there really isn’t that much water out there.”

Concerned citizens can ask an arborist about applying an insecticide to trees as a preventative measure or if the tree has just begun to turn brown at the top, he said, adding that the results could be mixed. The city property slated for tree removal next week was too large for individual tree spraying, he said.

“Most of the time, they’re not salvageable if they’re already dying,” Chambers said. “It’s just a matter of removing them to get the beetles off the site so they don’t attack other adjacent trees.”

Chambers asked residents to obey signage and avoid the area next week during the tree removal operation, which will bring heavy equipment and hazards such as falling trees.