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Mountain Pine Beetle Infestation Looms Over Pit River Tribe Gathering

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As the Pit River Indian Tribe’s annual gathering approaches, environmental officials are working to curtail an infestation of mountain pine beetles that is decimating lodgepoles at the Medicine Lake Recreation Area.

Although the Pit River Tribe’s annual gathering at Medicine Campground from July 18-21 is not threatened by the invasion, the infestation has been slowly worsening of the past few years, the U.S. Forest Service said in a statement.

“Mountain pine beetle activity has increased throughout the Medicine Lake basin over the past few years and is now considered at outbreak levels in some locations causing the death of a large number of lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta) in and around the campground areas,” the U.S. Forest Service said.

The pine beetle—Dendroctonus ponderosae—kills trees by boring into the bark and sucking out the nutrients. The lodgepole is its main victim, though it also affects limber pines and whitebark pines, according to the Big Sky Owners Association, a Montana conservation group. 

RELATED: Mountain Pine Beetle Jumps Species, Spreading its Reach

Nationwide it has decimated 38,000 square miles of forest in the western U.S. alone, according to Bloomberg Business Week. This includes 25 percent of the forest in the Black Hills of South Dakota. While cold winters normally kill the beetles off over the winter and give trees a fighting chance, the warmer overall temperatures have enabled the beetles to flourish at both higher elevations and altitudes, Bloomberg Business Week added. The dead trees in turn are prime fuel for wildfires, especially in drought conditions. 

“That’s one of the reasons to try to get a jump on things—to prevent widespread infestations like they’re seeing in other areas,” said Chris Christofferson, district ranger for the Modoc’s Doublehead Ranger District in Tulelake, to the Herald and News

Modoc National Forest officials are working hard to keep the outbreak in check by using a three-pronged approach. The first stage, conducted in mid- and late June, was to mark and remove infested trees. Phase two entailed applying bark beetle pheromones to infested trees around the lake and the wetlands, which was done over June 25-26, the U.S. Forest Service said. For phase three the trees will be sprayed with insecticide, most likely this fall, the Forestry Service said. Whether this last phase is necessary will be determined this summer, the Forest Service said.

“While spraying trees will not stop the current outbreak, it will prevent the treated trees from being attacked and will help maintain a forested campground area,” the agency said.