Foresters hunt invasive beetles, bores at Rooster Rock
Beetle and wood bore-infested forests could ravage what remains of Oregon's timber industry — and the last line of defense is a bug-baiting scientist in a park eight miles east of Troutdale.
So don't be alarmed if you see a column of stacked funnels blowing in the breeze or hanging from a tree at Rooster Rock State Park. Inside that trap could be one of the pests sought by the Oregon Department of Forestry.
"They're incredibly tiny, but very, very powerful. Some of them can kill trees with the pathogens they carry," warned invasive species specialist Wyatt Williams during a presentation in late April at Rooster Rock, located off Exit 25 of Interstate 84.
"If we can detect them early, we can eradicate them," he continued.
Williams and other members of the Oregon Invasive Species Council are hunting for 50 nonnative species on their most wanted list. So far, none of those bugs are believed to be living in the Beaver State.
But in the more than two years since monitoring began across the state, entomologists have found 24 "exotic" species of wood bore — including some that are harmless and others whose effects on the local ecosystem are unknown.
One of the exotic species was found at Rooster Rock.
Keeping bark beetles and other wood bores contained is no idle concern. Since it was first detected in 2002, the emerald ash borer has killed more than 100 million trees across 30 states.
"It's on the level of climate change," Williams said. "It can threaten sustainable forestry in Oregon (because) our native hardwoods don't have the defenses."
The Oregon ash tree, common throughout the Willamette Valley, would be a delectable treat to the ash borer and similar species. Luckily, scientists believe the bug has currently made it no farther west than Denver, Colorado.
Bark beetles and wood bores are what Williams calls "fungus farmers" because they actually grow fungi in crevices all over their bodies. The fungus winds up eating the bark growing on living trees, and then the bugs feast on the fungi.
Humans can unintentionally give these creepy crawlers a lift, primarily when shipping nursery products or hauling infected firewood across states lines. Most of these species originate in Asia and Europe and first make landfall near international ports.
At Rooster Rock, entomologists have set up 12 traps — four in the trees, eight on the ground — that are checked every three weeks. The largest ones, known as Lindgren Funnel Traps, trick bugs by mimicking the silhouette of living trees. They also use pheromones to attract lots of types of bugs, so scientists won't know for sure what they've caught until the sample is under a microscope.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture has a good track record of destroying invaders in the Portland area. After European gypsy moths were spotted in 2016, foresters sprayed some 7,000 acres from the air with biological pesticides in North Portland and Vancouver, Washington. The bugs haven't been found since.
If one of the most-dangerous species of wood beetle or bore is found here, park rangers will scramble to determine the boundaries of the infestation and set up a quarantine zone. From there, the best treatment is pesticides and removing the infected trees.
"All it takes is one bundle of wood," said Williams, who has been with the forestry department for more than five years. "We know it's coming. We just don't know when."