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Monday, February 7, 2011

Pine bark beetle devastation

If you've been boondocking in the Western forests over the past few years you've likely become aware of the devastation caused by the pine bark beetle

More than 50 million acres have been affected, with beetles penetrating into nearly all western slope pine forests. Forest Service officials say it's the worst beetle epidemic in history. 

The timing of extreme low temperatures  determines whether the beetle population is affected. In the late fall and early winter, the beetles are turning sugar into glycol, which acts as a natural antifreeze. By January and February, the beetles already have built up so much glycol that they're resistant to the lower temperatures. 

But if extreme cold happens early in the season, it is more likely to kill them, though, even if the cold air descended at the perfect time, the epidemic is so widespread and the population is so huge that it likely wouldn't make much of a difference.  The recent cold spell was not enough to kill off the beetle, according to entomologists. At least 72 hours of 30 below zero temperatures would be required, not just an overnight low. 

The forests have been so susceptible to beetle damage because overcrowded forest enters the same convergence of tree age and health at the same time, and combined with long droughts, the trees were the perfect home for the beetle. 

One important concern is the falling trees, where the numbers are increasing. The forest floor covered with this dry dead fuel will place the forest into the worst potential wildfire danger in the last 25 years. 

Depressing, I know, but when you're planning your trips into the forests this summer, it might be advisable to research where the devastation has been the worst and avoid those areas. Let's hope there are still some magnificent pine forests left to camp in. 

Check out Bob Difley's Boondocking and Snowbird Guide eBooks at

1 comment:

  1. You mention falling trees, but only in regard to the fire danger resulting from the dry deadfall. A more immediate danger is the actual hazard of the falling tree itself during periods of high winds. Boondockers should be aware of this danger when choosing a campsite. Potential damage to your RV is one concern, but severe bodily injury and even death to campers who are hit by falling trees is not unheard of. The Forest Service, National Park Service, and State Parks agencies are spending millions of dollars to clear beetle-kill trees in and around campgrounds, and in some instances closing campgrounds where funds are unavailable for clearing. This drives more RV'ers to boondock in areas where such mitigation has not occurred.