A stressed-out tree and a hungry little beetle make for a brown forest.
The tan color creeping through Sierra pine trees this year is indicative of two things: several years of drought and bark beetles.
Drought over the last three years has sapped strength from pine trees in the area and left them susceptible to attacks by various types of bark beetles. Beetle populations are up this year and they are infesting trees through the Sierra and Pi-on Hills.
While the insects are an important, natural part of a forest's life cycle, John Christopherson, state forest health specialist, said state and federal forest officials hope to keep the beetle population low, and that means educating everyone from the curious to forested property owners on how to recognize and deal with the beetles.
Trees in Washoe Valley north of Davis Creek Park show signs of beetle infestation, but trees south of Gardnerville to Topaz Lake are worse off, Christopherson said. Especially in dry times, the beetles travel from tree to tree, burrowing under the bark, mating and tunneling through the tree -- a process that eventually deprives the tree of nutrients. The dead trees create a fire hazard in the forest.
The Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines of the Sierra are infected with pine engraver beetles, while the pi-on trees are infected with the pi-on ips beetle. They're the "regulators of the forest," Christopherson said, who work at thinning the forest when forest management practices fail.
The consequences of beetle infestation are predictable and, to some extent, preventable, Christopherson said.
"We know what conditions trigger these insect outbreaks," Christopherson said. "It's best if (a beetle infestation) is caught early before it's allowed to run its course."
The beetle scourge has surrounded Carson City, but so far, the beetles have stayed away from the capital.
Last summer, the range in both the Pi-on Hills and the Sierra showed signs of beetle infestation, Christopherson said. The Nevada Division of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service are hosting a meeting Thursday to educate people on bark beetles and what they can do to deal with or prevent an outbreak on their own property.
Christopherson said the state has federal funding to help forest property owners protect their property.
IF YOU GO
What: Bark Beetle epidemic public meeting
When: 6-8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Bureau of Land Management offices, 5665 Morgan Mill Road