spruce bark beetle

Mitch Michaud

You might see smoke coming from parts of the Chugach National Forest this week and next.

But it’s no cause for alarm. The Forest Service said it’s burning slash piles in Cooper Landing and Moose Pass, partly in an effort to mitigate the local spruce bark beetle problem.

Mitch Michaud

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the Kenai Peninsula Borough have submitted a funding request to address spruce bark beetle kill on the peninsula — the latest effort to curb the ongoing beetle kill crisis that’s destroyed spruce forests across Southcentral. 

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

If you’ve been around town a few years, you know how drastically different Kenai and Soldotna look now than they did two summers back. That’s in part because of the loss of a vast number of spruce trees, killed by the spruce bark beetle.

The Kenai Peninsula is in the middle of a spruce bark beetle outbreak, the worst in recent years. The little brown beetles burrow in and eat the tree’s phloem, which is the connective tissue that allows trees to move sugar around after photosynthesis. Bark beetles are a native part of the ecosystem here, but in the last three or four years, their activity has spiked.

Doug Koch of Pro Tree Service in Kenai has been felling trees on the peninsula since 1993. In the last four years, he said he’s seen a big uptick in the number of dead spruce trees.

Mitch Michaud

Soldotna is waiting on a federal grant to remove beetle kill trees that could fall and pose a fire risk. But the beetles themselves aren’t so patient.

“Needless to say, the wheels of government don’t work as fast as the beetles do," said local forester Mitch Michaud, who's helping Soldotna forge a path forward among a persisting spruce bark beetle problem.

U.S. Forest Service

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.

Spruce bark beetles on the move

Jun 15, 2020
Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

Spring and summer weather gets people out of their houses and working on their property, preparing their homes for wildfire season, clearing trees. But it is not the time to cut live spruce trees.

This is the time of year when spruce bark beetles move from infested trees and fly to new host trees. From mid-May until mid-July when temperatures are above 60° F, the beetles move from the layer between the bark and wood of infested trees, seeking new trees to lay their eggs. Howard Kent is the Fire Management Officer for the Kenai/Kodiak Office of the Division of Forestry.

How’s the health of the trees is your neck of the woods? Find out, with the help of retired silviculturist (fancy forester) Mitch Michaud.

Bugged by summer

Jun 13, 2019
Jenny Neyman/KDLL

You take the good with the bad in Alaska summers — the salmon are returning, the sun is at least periodically shining and daylight is nearly endless. But there are a few million obstacles to being outside enjoying those things.

Seemingly overnight, our blissfully mosquito-free spring took a turn for the annoying.

Spruce bark beetle meeting this week

Nov 5, 2018

The U.S. Forrest Service estimates that spruce bark beetles have damaged 52,000 acres on the Kenai Peninsula this year alone. The periodic, tree-killing bugs have been on a growth cycle the last three years and the University of Alaska Cooperative Extension Service is at the forefront of the battle against them.

Jessie Moan is a forest health expert in the integrated pest management office of the Extension Service, which plans a meeting in Kenai next week, along the lines of similar workshops in Palmer and Houston in the Mat-Su Borough.

On this fund drive science show, we learn about early Alaskans, the latest on spruce bark beetles, and a bacteria that threatens both wildlife and livestock.

Dr. Alan Boraas is our guest in the first segment discussing his contribution to the study of the earliest Americans.

Jason Moen and Matt Bowser join us for the second segment on spruce bark beetles, including results of an aerial survey this summer.

Amy Seitz and Dr. Bob Gerlach are the guests in the last segment discussing MOV bacteria.

Wild plants sometimes get a bad rap. When they’re pretty, we call them wildflowers. But usually, when they’re in our gardens without being intentionally planted, they’re weeds. And if they’re especially tenacious, like horsetail, they might get called even worse names.

But how often do we look at them as food or medicine? Tia Holley, an ethnobotanist who works in the wellness program at the Dena’ina Wellness Center in Kenai, gives us tips on how and what to pick locally.