Friday, July 01, 2016

Spruce Coming Back In Parts Of Kenai After Spruce Bark Beetle

After Seward, we camped at Ptarmigan Creek campground.  This used to be full of huge old spruce trees.  Then in the 80s for 15 to 20 years there was a massive invasion of spruce bark beetles.  From KDLL interview with National Resource Conservation Service forester Mitch Michaud and John Morton, supervisory biologist with the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge:
"A spruce bark beetle outbreak isn’t unusual — we tend to have one every 50 years or so, but the severity and duration of this one were significant. It’s still seen as the biggest outbreak in North America. . . "  [emphasis added.]
With so many trees dying, there was a great danger of fire, so many trees were cut, and at the campground.  Sort of like Bob Marley with a  buzz cut.

But all around the campground area there are hundreds and maybe thousands of young spruce trees pushing up.  There might have been giant die-off, but the seeds were patiently waiting in the soil.

Most of the green in that picture is spruce.  There's a hemlock in the middle foreground and some deciduous shrubs and trees, but maybe thirty or forty spruce trees too.

Seeing things over a span of time helps give perspective on how nature works.  We can get that perspective by living a long time in one place or by reading observations of indigenous peoples in the area and scientists and others who track this sort of thing.

But according to the KDLL interview, it's not the same all over.  Near Homer the spruce doesn't seem to be coming back.
"That’s partially due to fire, which is another huge driver of change in a forest. Again, fire is not an unusual or even necessarily unhealthy occurrence in a forest, but the changing fire pattern is having an effect. Grass grows back quicker than trees, and burns more easily. More-frequent, more-intense fires on the southern peninsula are leading to more grassland growing in than trees."

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