A Solution to the Pine Beetle Problem
by George Hahn & Darryl Neal
Note: George Hahn is president of California Vermiculture, LLC, (P.O. Box 95, Cardiff by the Sea, CA 92007, www.wormgold.com, 760-942-6086). His company manufactures Wormgold® pure worm castings and other worm casting products. This article appeared in the "Fruit Gardener", journal for the California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc., Fullerton Arboretum - CSUF, P.O. Box 6850, Fullerton, CA 92834-6850, www.crfg.org, 714-840-7694. The original article has been edited for space considerations.
The Problem: Large Scale Attack
Wide areas of coniferous forest in Arrowhead, Big Bear, Idyllwild, and Julian, California have been devastated by pine beetles. The California Department of Forestry states that there is no answer to this problem and estimates that 90 percent of the 750,000 acres of pines in the Los Angeles Basin area will be dead from beetle attacks within 4 years. Dead trees greatly increase the danger of wildfires and need to be removed at significant cost. Loss of these trees reduces the natural beauty of the mountains and severely damages air quality.
This massive tree loss is not limited to Southern California. Pines in nearly every part of the world are experiencing similar problems. Alaska has set aside $200 million and Oregon $327 million for research into pine beetle ecology and subsequent reforestation.
The Cause: A Destructive Process
Bark beetles have always existed in our forests, but only infest trees that are severely weakened. The combined effects of drought, pollution, poor air quality, and acid rain have weakened the trees and increased their susceptibility to beetle infestation. The net result is a huge increase in beetle population as they thrive on weakened trees.
Pine Bark Beetles attack pine trees by laying their eggs in the cambium layer, just underneath the bark. The cambium layer is the vascular system of the tree that moves water and nutrients from the roots to the canopy. Hatching larvae require a softened (damaged) cambium layer for food.
Adult beetles carry parasitic fungi on their feet and shells that soften the cambium layer creating food for their larvae. The presence of parasitic fungi in the cambium is generally sufficient to slowly kill most pine trees. The killing process is greatly accelerated when the beetle larvae feed on the damaged cambium.
The destructive attack of only a few Ipps beetles in the upper canopy can kill the top of a pine. The whole tree will be killed with the attack of Western Pine beetles in the lower to middle trunk, or by Red Turpentine beetles at the very bottom of the trunk. Death of part of, or the entire, tree happens in about 6 weeks. A very small number of beetles can be fatal to the tree.
Towards a Solution: Healthy Trees vrs.\ Sick Trees
Healthy trees have two mechanisms to effectively repel beetle attacks: Physical Expulsion (sap flow) and Natural Biological Repellency (beneficial microorganisms).
Physical Expulsion of the beetle happens via the flow of sap through the entry passage created by the beetle. In most cases the sap flow removes the fungus, eggs, and beetle.
Natural Biological Repellency alerts the beetle to the presence of microorganisms in the tree that will inhibit the growth of eggs. In the presence of these beneficial microorganisms, beetles back out of the tree and go elsewhere. Natural Biological Repellency is the best and most common defense a healthy tree has against the pine beetles.
Weakened trees that lack both forms of protection cannot stop beetles from boring into the cambium layer and depositing eggs and parasitic fungi. The newly hatched beetle larvae then eat the cambium layer damaged by the fungi and the tree is sentenced to death.
There are two types of pesticides currently in use. They are ineffective in the long term! One is a strong systemic pesticide that is injected into the tree. This pesticide repels the beetles for about 120 days. This treatment is toxic to the natural biology of the tree and lowers the viscosity of the sap causing seepage of 8-20 feet. The Pine beetles soon resume their attack. Without reapplication, the weakened trees quickly die. The second is a topical pesticide that is sprayed onto the bark and branches creating a chemical barrier where it is applied. This is effective as a barrier for about 90 days. It is difficult to achieve a complete barrier on trees over 60 feet in height not to mention the significant negative effects of toxic chemicals in a virgin forest.
A New Approach
Tree and Plant Rescue, LLC, in Cardiff, CA, has pioneered and patented a dramatically different approach that has shown significant success in protecting the trees of Idyllwild, CA. Tree and Plant Rescue uses the latest in organic technology to reintroduce beneficial microorganisms to the trees and soil, which were lost under adverse conditions. The array of beneficial microorganisms is key to rebuilding Natural Biological Repellency and increasing healthy sap flows.
A microbe rich liquid called Pine Beetle Solution (PBS) is produced using worm castings that contain high levels of natural repellency organisms. The beneficial microorganisms are cultured in a special brewing lab where they multiply 9 billion times in 24 hours! One gallon of PBS has the same biological potency as 2,000 pounds of high quality worm castings. PBS is totally organic and non-toxic, and is filled with the naturally occurring beneficial microorganisms found in healthy soil.
PBS is sprayed onto tree foliage and bark, and is injected into the root zone when the soil temperature is above 50 degrees F. Special equipment is used to inject the liquid and to spray trees as tall as 120 feet.
Beginning in June 2003, Tree and Plant Rescue treated approximately 3,000 tress with PBS. The trees that had not been previously attacked by pine beetles remain healthy and beetle-free today. In several cases, trees in neighboring yards have been attacked and subsequently removed while the PBS trees remain, untainted.
The cost of this approach is far less expensive than removal of trees: approximately $200 for a single tree but it drops to less than $100 per tree for multiple trees treated at the same property. In contrast, removal of a dead tree runs from $500 - $2,000 depending upon size. PBS treatment is both cost effective and ecologically sound. An annual treatment is recommended to maintain the health of the trees.
Independent tests of PBS by BBC Labs, and academic research by Dr. K. D. Leipzig of the USDA-Forestry Service, Forest Insect Research in Louisiana, confirms that the positive results seen in Idyllwild are not anomalous.
George Hahn (760-942-6086) is the owner of California Vermiculture. He pioneered the research on insect repellency using worm castings with an elevated level of chitin degraders. On Nov 5, 2002, he was granted a patent for insect repellency and fungus control using worm castings.
Darryl Neal (909-235-1514) of Tree and Plant Rescue, successfully developed the protocol with George Hahn for application of PBS to pine trees to achieve improved health and beetle repellency.
Wormgold is a registered trademark of California Vermiculture, LLC.