New Mexico’s relentless drought is stressing forests, making them more vulnerable to a widespread pest infestation that could cause a mass tree die-off if wetter weather doesn’t come, a newly released state report says.

The 2020 state report on New Mexico’s forest health looked at how extensively pests killed and damaged trees on national, state and tribal woodlands.

Drought conditions have worsened, encompassing half the state at the beginning of 2020 and then growing until every area of New Mexico was deemed in some level of drought by the year’s end, the report said.

“Drought and warming temperatures have been linked to amplified tree death,” the report said. “Consequently, if these conditions remain similar in 2021 then tree death may increase in direct response to drought and warming or indirectly by being more attractive and susceptible to bark beetle attack.”

Dehydrated trees can’t maintain healthy canopies nor can they produce the sap needed to repel pests — a double whammy.

Aerial surveys found beetles last year had killed trees on 60,000 acres and damaged trees on several hundred thousand acres, the report said. It noted that not every tree on every acre was affected.

This could be a mild foreshadowing of what’s to come if the drought doesn’t let up, experts say.

“The beetles have probably emerged in the last month, so as they start attacking trees, we’ll be seeing a lot more in the coming months,” said John Formby, a state Forestry Division entomologist who helped write the report.

Researchers say last year’s drought, which caused by an exceptionally light snowpack and monsoon, could become more the norm as climate change creates warmer, drier weather throughout the Southwest.

The state has been in a mostly dry period since the late 1990s. This winter is one of the driest in recent memory, compounded by La Niña, an ocean cooling event that reduces evaporation and results in even more arid conditions in the Southwest.

The piñon pine, New Mexico’s official state tree, is especially vulnerable.

An estimated 350 million piñons died statewide in the early 2000s and millions more died a decade later when harsh drought conditions led to severe beetle infestations.

Formby said he is seeing reports of dying piñons.

“Nothing major,” he said, “but definitely some more piñon mortality creeping in.”

At the same time, large expanses of Ponderosa pines have yellowed, a clear sign of drought stress that is lowering the trees’ defenses, Formby said.

Researchers will know more after this year’s aerial surveys are conducted in the summer, he said.

The spruce beetle has been the most devastating recently, leaving dead trees scattered across more than 31,000 acres, the report said. Again, only some trees were killed on each acre.

The report also estimates invasive beetles:

  • Killed ponderosa pines on about 12,000 acres.
  • Killed mixed conifers on about 13,000 acres.
  • Killed piñons on several thousand acres.

Formby said he was “pretty darned concerned” about the overall trends of piñon and ponderosa pines. Those trees grow mainly on state and private land, which make them his agency’s responsibility, he said.

A lot of bark beetles were found east of Santa Fe, and they expand from there, he said.

“Our prediction for this year is that we will likely see an uptick in the amount of bark beetles — probably most apparent in the piñon woodlands,” said Andrew Graves, head entomologist for the U.S. Forest Service in New Mexico.

The agency doesn’t try to combat pests with insecticides because it’s too expensive and impractical, Graves said.

It costs $200 to $500 per tree, and must be done as a preventive measure, Graves added, because once a beetle infests a tree, it’s too late.

“It’s just too many trees to spray … before the bark beetles come out,” Graves said.

Both Graves and Formby say the piñons that survive the last two die-offs might be hardier stock that can better withstand the harsh conditions brought on by climate change.

But Graves said he has doubts that a tree could evolve that quickly.

Graves cautioned people who collect firewood from national forests to make sure it’s not from freshly felled trees that might be infested with beetles. They could end up spreading the insects to the trees in their yards, he said.

Choose wood from trees that look older and drier, he advised, noting beetles will abandon a tree a couple of months after it dies.

Graves said although the forecast seems bleak, he still holds hope for a decent rainy season.

“A few good rains could really help,” Graves said.

(16) comments

Khal Spencer

Two things. One, the 20th century was abnormally wet for the SW (see the second figure in the link below) and we took that as the normal, which it was not. Two, there were never so many straws in the water glass prior to the boom in Southwest population. Its a double whammy. Then add anthropogenically-goosed climate change and Bob's your uncle.

Jim Klukkert

Good morning Kahl-

1) Might you please expand on " Bob's your uncle?" Thanks, otherwise I will be wondering all day in a similar manner to the tune stuck in my head Sunday. {Onward Christian Soldiers, sung by a large woman opera star, ouch!}

2) Do you think the climate change deniers are familiar with the term or concept of anthropogenically-goosed? Might it be better to introduce the concept of the Anthropocene?

So amazing that so many scientists are busy cataloging extinctions and mass die offs. Get out there kids, and get those specimens in the lexicon before they are gone forever!

Prince Michael Jauregui

Actually James, "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" is much, much more relevant, and it went to -what else- number-one of the charts....

Khal Spencer

1. "Bob's your uncle" is a phrase commonly used in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries that means "and there it is" or "and there you have it" or "It's done". Typically, someone says it to conclude a set of simple instructions or when a result is reached." (from Wikipedia). I learned that expression from a friend and it stuck.

2. Anthropogenically-goosed. I tend to wear my Mr. Science hat rather loosely on this issue because I am not a climatologist, just a lowly geochemist who worked on rocks, pollution fate and transport, and stuff I don't talk about in public. Other people dated girls. I dated rocks so rather than being cis or trans, I'm chron. What I was trying to get across was that first off, the SW is "normally" drier than what 20th Century folks are used to (that is, unless one remembers the '50s drought) and secondly, our messing with atmospheric chemistry is most likely putting an anthropogenic overprint on drying trends in the SW that occur even under pre-industrial conditions. I think the modellers suggest an expansion of the subtropical high which makes this area really dry. This is, for a lot of reasons (deforestation, river re-engineering, city-building, industrial emissions, overpopulation, overfishing, monoculture, etc), the Anthropocene.

Jim Klukkert


Paul Davis

That report is almost enough to make me put our home on the market and head for the Michigan upper penisula or Vermont.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Be not further deceived: This is not only Biblical, it is a immutable microcosm for the Moral and Spiritual drought within a once-verdant and Godly-blessed nation. A mere precursor for far-greater and well-earned consequences for a wicked and wholly corrupted country that continues to arrogantly defy The Kingdom of Christ Yeshua/The House of David.

Jim Klukkert

Morning Prince- Seems the catastrophic effects of Climate Change are world wide.

Would you extend your assessment of "wicked and wholly corrupted" around the Globe.

I do believe this all results from Life Out of Balance. In the Hopi language, the word for this is Koyaanisqatsi. That

Koyaanisqatsi was used for the title of a very important film produced and directed by long time New Mexican Godfrey Reggio, with music composed by Philip Glass.

The film is stunning, Prince. If you have not seen it, please do. I think you may be moved.

Prince Michael Jauregui

Thank-you for the suggestion, sir. Overstand, -if you will- Mr. Klukkert, Man was given dominion over this Earth, to be "good stewards" over all of God's Creatures great and small. Tragically, the love of Money IS the root of all evil and the Earth -and God's Creatures- were recklessly ravaged.

Anyway, I actually attended a Philip Glass-led performance in the 1980's in L.A., unquestionably, an extremely innovative individual. Thanks again, Be good to you.

Jim Klukkert


Khal Spencer

mid-15c., "lordship, sovereign or supreme authority," from Old French dominion "dominion, rule, power" and directly from Medieval Latin dominionem (nominative dominio), corresponding to Latin dominium "property, ownership," from dominus "lord, master," from domus "house" (from PIE root *dem- "house, household").

from for what its worth (sorry, Mr. Stills...)

I had a Quaker high school biology teacher who often used "stewardship" rather than "dominion". He taught 10th grade Biology and ran a farm on the side (geese, sheep, plowed with draft horses, etc), which I think was his real love. I think he got his ideas about stewardship from his faith and his farm. I'm not a Biblical scholar so don't know what the KJV folks were thinking or what the original texts may have said.

Clearly, given this is the Anthropocene, we certainly are in the driver's seat. That said, we all should remember that first picture the Apollo astronauts sent back showing the Earth as a little ball in space. If we soil our nest, we really don't have too many options, Star Trek or Kantner, Slick et al notwithstanding. I don't think there is a starship to hijack.

ba hop

go peddle your tea leaves somewhere else? if there's anything biblical about this? it's man's misguided & fantasmical belief that he was put here in dominion over the planet, to do with as he sees fit - to rape & pillage & plunder & PROFIT from the wonder of this natural world that was given to ALL that is alive... every living thing is designed & connected in an universally intelligent ecosystemic way. remove one domino of mans choosing & the natural world order begins to die- which it has been at an alarming rate... the real sin here is man's ignorant belief of the fairy tale that he is ABOVE every other living thing... IF there is an apocalypse-- it is from a growing cult of greedy non scientific conspiracy climate deniers -- who will believe anything resistant to change or solutions from the status quo for a few privileged- who will be the death of us all. the more you peddle this white christian nationalist belief-- the more you misinform your brethren of the real consequences of our lack of a moral/godly path this nation & its dark past has really been... privilege, inequality, genocide, slavery, greed & unbridled capitalistic consumerism - all in the name of your (white) kingdom of ? (which is vastly shrinking as the worlds population grows-- ) when you peddle this kind of garbage - its no wonder there is so much hate chaos & division in this world...

Prince Michael Jauregui

Ba Hop, I "peddle" nothing. I share Truth. Blessedly, there are some truly open and expansive minds here (Mr. Spencer, Mr. Klukkert, and Dr. Johnson, -among others), whom often share powerful perspectives. We're often not in agreement, but, we try to be cool. Ba Hop, is it? Might I suggest less coffee and more tea? 1/2 the caffeine. Ain't Almighty YHWH great!

ba hop

greetings- mr. prince is it?  I respectfully beg to disagree... my point was/is; your truth is just that- yours. while it may work for your life (& you're certainly free to share it w/ that caveat)-- to continually push your faith based conviction & narrative as a credible solution to debate OUR real world problems & issues is merely peddling something that is not only an insult to reasonable multitudes -but it is also fiction -neither a real world truth or based in fact... if you care to have me /others take you seriously- you can always dialogue on that playing field instead of quoting scripture... clear solutions for many of our problems like reversing our planet's ill health are available & based on scientific data, fact, theory & research, but if unpopular & denied?- it's partly a result of conflicting, diversionary & muddied opinionated fallacy -as you've offered here...  if there's one thing you said that we both agree on however?  it is man's unbridled & unregulated capitalistic greed (not a lack of prayer in schools) that will eventually destroy this planet.  and FYI-- I don't drink coffee.  I'm just not as cool open or expansive to the current proliferation of conspiratorial fools that seems to have overtaken much of this country's ability to dialogue & think analytically intelligently & rationally for themselves and those around them these days.  PT Barnum was right... I guess if there's one lesson our current day false prophet(s) have gleaned from the 43 Neo-Con WMD Iraq War Scam, it is; '... A Lie Told A Thousand Times Becomes the Truth...' no disrespect intended here- as I don't know what cultish reality you choose to inhabit -or not, but if my perception of you is wrong however? (and/or your almighty does heal this planet (w/out destroying the human race) -I sincerely apologize. I will gladly be the first to admit to you & all -the error of my misguided mortal way of seeing the truth in solutions to our common world problems through science data & fact (vs. fiction).  and... I'll gladly buy you a tea. best ba hop

Jim Klukkert

ba hop & Prince Michael Jauregui- I just want to share my hopes for better days, and any admission of past frustrations and anger issues.

With the verdict yesterday regarding the murder of Mr. Floyd, and the sweet and dark memories of Emmett Till, I am hoping we can more fully escape the tr5oubling follies of the past four years. Aided by the lessons of the Pandemic, I must admit that despite my Nordic angst and dark outlook, this may be possible.

I too have had my difficulties with Prince's seemingly over the top language and references to the Almighty. We Northern Europeans are a wee bit circumspect with some of these matters. However, when I look deeper into PMJ's commentary, there are some real pearls there, well worth stepping around points I may not find agreeable.

Prince Michael Jauregui has a very distinct style, and apparently navigates this life with a perspective most would call spiritually based. I find no harm in the bright colors of Prince's writing, and no offense in the sources he draws upon. After all, it has been spiritual traditions that guided humanity for milenia, and those traditions are at the root of many secular belief structures.

So I urge patience upon all here. If we can build a civil space for discussing issues, that would be a great gift to our times.

One final note: If a Democratic Socialist like myself, and a Democratic Capitalist like Mike Johnson, can find common ground on some of the current issues, well, really folks, can't we all just get along? With credit to the late, great Rodney King.

zach miller

something something canary in the coal mine

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