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What the City of Helena is doing about trees devastated by engraver beetles

Engraver beetle trees.jpg
Posted at 5:31 PM, Jan 31, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-01 12:21:04-05

HELENA — Helena Open Lands Manager, Brad Langsather, marked dead or dying Douglas Firs on the north side of Mount Helena on Wednesday. He has a keen eye for trees infested by a destructive beetle.

Towards the bottom of the mountain, there are primarily healthy Ponderosa Pines.

As you near the summit, more dead and dying Doug Firs appear, easily identifiable by red-brown needles.

The culprit? The Douglas Fir Engraver Beetle. A beetle who just loves Douglas Firs.

The outbreak took off after a wet spring storm in 2017. The conditions allowed the beetles to thrive.

“It created habitat for the engraver beetle. Engraver beetles’ population started to rise then we saw a couple drought years in the early 2020’s and the beetle then started attacking seemingly healthy trees,” says Langsather.

Last spring, the city put up pheromone capsules to try and prevent the beetles from creating further damage. Some of those capsules worked as intended, while others did not.

The next step, clear the thousands of trees that have been impacted. Langsather and his team and going to be spraying around 2,000 to 3,000 Douglas Firs on Mt. Helena. They will then wait until the spring to chop them down.

After the trees have been cut down, they will be piled and burned. Essentially, the city has been forced to finish out the beetles’ destruction.

But if they are not removed, they will continue to decay, posing a hazard to trail users and increasing the risk of a destructive fire on the mountain.