Agencies hand out seedlings to spruce up forests
Most of the Kenai Peninsula, and most of Southcentral Alaska, is covered by what’s called boreal forest. The forests are dominated by birch, cottonwood, alder and spruce, as well as a handful of other species. That's not a huge amount of biodiversity but boreal forests are home to several different kinds of spruce trees.
On the western peninsula, it’s mostly black spruce, which are the spindly, Nightmare Before Christmas-esque conifer trees growing in wetlands. But white spruce also grow in the Kenai-Soldotna area.
"The big, beautiful spruce trees that have a lot of diameter, almost looking similar to a Christmas type of tree — that would be your white spruce," said Darren Finley, fire prevention officer and firefighter with the Alaska Division of Forestry. "They do grow here and they’re being targeted pretty heavily by the beetle right now."
At the Soldotna Wednesday Market, several federal agencies were handing out white spruce seedlings and talking with visitors about wildfires and reducing fire risk near homes. Much of the fuel for wildfires come from spruce trees killed by spruce bark beetles.
The beetles eat all kinds of spruce, including black, white and Sitka spruce, which dominate the area near Seward. While new spruce coming up will still be vulnerable to bark beetles, which seem to be increasing in activity as the summers grow warmer and longer, the younger trees will be less vulnerable than the older ones, said Jeff Bouschor with the U.S. Forest Service.
"Typically, it attacks older, more mature trees, and the younger trees, the cohort that replaces them, the beetles aren’t really interested in them," he said. "Typically, they’re drawn in by damage or older, decaying trees. That’s really the value of replanting the new trees and having that cohort to replace the older trees that are likely to be killed by beetles."
The tree seedlings were going fast at the Wednesday Market but are available at the Alaska Division of Forestry office just east of Soldotna, while supplies last.