For an insect the size of about the tip of a ball point pen, you might not assume the pine bark beetle could do so much damage.
However, according to the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Prevention, an outbreak of infestation has affected about 7000 acres in the Tehachapi Mountains and Southern Sierra Nevada including areas throughout Tehachapi, Bear Valley, Tejon Ranch and Frazier Park -- as well as Alta Sierra, Breckingridge and Lake Isabella.
And with a record-breaking drought, the problem is likely to get worse.
It has become such a problem locally, that directors of the Bear Valley Springs Community Services District have scheduled a public hearing on April 10 to consider a resolution that declares and orders the control, removal and eradication of pine park beetle infestations within the district.
According to a report prepared by Interim General Manager Larry Pennell, "Although the district has the authority to direct property owners to remove these infestations (at their expense), it is necessary to adopt a resolution and conduct a public hearing."
The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 10, at the district headquarters, 28999 S. Lower Valley Road.
Chriso Lee, who owns and operates a local tree trimming service, said his company has yanked close to 300 trees from Bear Valley Springs in the last seven years.
According to Lee, the beetles attack primarily Jeffrey pines and Ponderosa pine trees.
Lee said when beetles bore holes into the wood, it creates a "girdling effect," that occurs when all of the cambium encircling the tree is damaged.
Problems with these beetles have been exacerbated during times of little precipitation. According to Lee, when trees are healthy and producing an ample amount of sap, they defend themselves by pushing that sap outwards through the holes bored by the beetles.
Jeff Gletne, a registered professional forester who has been working with the owner of Bear Mountain Ranch on a logging project and worked in recent years with Kern County on Tehachapi Moutain Park and the Wyman family's adjacent mountain acreage, told the Tehachapi News he believes the problem will only get worse this summer.
Property owners are encouraged to do what they can to keep trees healthy -- and to remove affected trees and slash (a forestry term that refers to coarse and fine woody debris generated during logging operations or through wind, snow or other natural events). Without slash, the first generation of beetles in the spring have very little host material to breed in and beetle populations can be kept low.
Initial attacks occur in the spring. Trees die systematically from the top down, creating a change in color from green, to yellow, to brown.
Methods for combating the problem include thinning overcrowded forest stands and keeping areas clear of slash.
Also, according to CAL FIRE, valueable individual trees can be sprayed with an insecticide. March and April are the best time to spray. Pesticides registered for use against bark beetles are available to licensed pesticide applicators. The chemicals are not available to homeowners.
The insecticide must be applied to the main trunk and all large branches as high as possible before the beetles attack. Beetles chewing through the bark will eat the poison and die. This will not save trees already infested.
Pruning out mistletoe is also recommended, as is preventing soil compaction, root destruction and avoiding burying or paving over tree roots.
CLAUDIA ELLIOTT of the Tehachapi News contributed to this story.