A spruce tree showing heavy damage from spruce bark beetles stands on Saturday, April 28, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ben Boetttger/Peninsula Clarion file)

A spruce tree showing heavy damage from spruce bark beetles stands on Saturday, April 28, 2018 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ben Boetttger/Peninsula Clarion file)

Spruce beetles still a big problem for the Kenai, U.S. Forest Service survey finds

The region is in its fifth year of the outbreak.

Spruce beetles continued to ravage Southcentral Alaska in 2020. That’s according to the findings of a survey by USDA Forest Service.

The Forest Service estimates that the region is in its fifth year of the outbreak, which has already impacted at least 1.1 million cumulative acres of mixed spruce and birch forests through 2019. With the additional 145,000 acres of spruce beetle damage recorded during the 2020 survey, the cumulative acreage affected jumps to at least 1.2 million.

According to the StoryMap created using the survey, the department surveyed areas known to have damage caused by spruce beetles in addition to affected areas that haven’t been surveyed recently. An interactive dashboard shows that about 50,000 acres of damage were reported for the Kenai Peninsula during the 2020 survey from all types of damage. 25,000 acres were affected by active spruce beetles this year.

During non-COVID years, Southeast Alaska Forest Pathologist Robin Mulvey said, the survey is conducted from the air.

“We normally fly 15-20% of the forested area of the state, but were unable to fly this year and instead relied on remote-sensing surveys of high-resolution satellite imagery obtained for a smaller portion of the forested area of Alaska,” Mulvey said.

Ground surveys covering approximately 2.4 million acres were conducted, with the goal of capturing major damage observations and approximating what would have been mapped during an aerial survey. Doing so gave damage location on which remote sensing tools could be honed.

“Alaska Forest Health Highlights 2020,” was published on Feb. 3.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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