LOS ANGELES (AP) – Gov. Gray Davis declared an emergency Friday in three Southern California counties whose forests have been left prone to fire by the ravages of beetles preying on drought-weakened trees.
The move smooths the way for residents in Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties to clear trees lost to the bark beetle epidemic, Davis said. Normally, residents face permit requirements as well as limits in clearing dead, dying or diseased trees.
“My action cuts the red tape and provides landowners with the regulatory relief necessary to quickly remove dead and dying trees from their property,” David said. The state is also seeking $3.3 million in federal aid for the region.
A handful of species of bark beetle have killed millions of trees in the San Bernardino and Cleveland national forests alone.
More trees continue to die, leaving tens of thousands of acres of forest laden with deadwood as fire season approaches. Much of that forest has not burned in more than a century.
“Fire is of huge concern to us because of all the huge amounts of dead wood out there,” U.S. Forest Service entomologist Laura Merrill said.
Bark beetles are native to California. They typically drill into trees seeking the moist inner bark they feast upon. In healthy pines, the trees flood the holes with resin, drowning and expelling the beetles.
However, drought-stressed trees are unable to repel the 1/8-inch pests and quickly succumb to their advances. Once attacked by bark beetles, trees left starved of water and nutrients can die in days or weeks.
Across the Southwest, a protracted drought has left huge swaths of forest vulnerable to the beetles. They have made steady inroads in recent months.