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Taking A Look Outside Our Window


Just as in HG Wells’ “War of the Worlds” it is the smallest thing that can cause the biggest problems. For those battling aliens taking over the planet, the small bacteria that killed the aliens were welcomed but for us on planet Earth now, there is a small bug that can change an entire forest.

The goldspotted oak borer is a buprestid beetle that has killed about 90,000 oak trees throughout Southern California. The borer has been spotted in Green Valley, Santa Clarita and unincorporated Chatsworth, just 14 miles from reaching the oak forests in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture  first identified the goldspotted oak borer in San Diego County in 2004. But it is suspected that the borer may have traveled from Arizona to Southern California through firewood in the 1990s.

On May 7, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that explores declaring a state of emergency and hiring a deputy forester and two assistants to seek out the goldspotted borer in trees on state, federal, county and private lands.

The Supervisors instructed the County’s chief sustainability office on Tuesday to draft recommendations for an ordinance regulating the movement of firewood to prevent the spread of the goldspotted oak borer.

So this is how it all happens: the females lay their eggs in the crevices in tree bark from spring to August. The eggs take a few weeks to hatch and when they do the larvae feed on the tissue just below the tree’s bark…eventually killing the tree through suffocation.

By fall the larvae will tunnel further into the tree where they continue to thrive. In May the beetles will metamorphose and emerge hungry from the oak trees, they snack on oak foliage, find a mate and start the process all over again, according the US Forest Service (USFS).

The USFS removes heavily infested trees and uses chemicals to target the beetles.

“Since oaks are keystone species in southern California’s woodlands, their widespread loss is also causing detrimental impacts to the natural landscape of this area. Biodiversity is adversely affected due to the loss of habitat and food resources used by native animals such as acorn woodpeckers, mule deer, ground squirrels, and the arroyo toad. Shading of sensitive riparian areas is being reduced which threatens water supplies and the existence of animals and plants that rely on this scarce resource. Also, increasing numbers of dead oaks are significantly increasing the fuel load in these areas, which can increase the probability and severity of wildfires in these natural areas. And lastly, there is a cost associated with the loss of aesthetic value because large swaths of dead oaks are ugly to look at and the attractiveness of these afflicted areas for hikers, photographers, and tourists is greatly diminished. Although this cost is difficult to estimate, it is nevertheless present, and possibly quite high,” according to the Center for Invasive Species Research, UC Riverside.

Next week I will look once again how history might help a present issue. Indigenous cultural burning may be a way to control these pests that are killing our oaks.

Our weather is looking sunny and clear for the next few days, according to NOAA.

Today our high will be in the mid 70s, with some wind about 10 mph in the afternoon then calming later in the evening. Friday through Monday we should see clear skies with highs in the upper 70s.