This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

Alaska Division of Forestry will receive federal money to help combat spruce bark beetle infestation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski addressed spruce bark beetle infestations during a subcommittee hearing in Washington, where she questioned U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen on the beetle epidemic in Southcentral Alaska, a press release from Murkowski said.

“The spruce bark beetle is back in Alaska and on steroids this time,” Murkowski said. “About 15 years ago, they decimated the Kenai Peninsula and are now moving into the Mat-Su Valley. One of the problems with the beetle is it destroys the health of the tree and makes them more vulnerable to fire. Yet, the [Fiscal Year 2020] budget proposes a 25% cut to the Forest Service Bark Beetle Initiative. There are private lands right next to your lands; the bugs don’t care.”

The Forest Service’s Bark Beetle Initiative assists with insect outbreak monitoring and mitigation.

At the hearing, Christiansen announced the U.S. Forest Service would be transferring $2 million in carryover funds from the agency’s State and Private Forestry accounts over to the Alaska Division of Forestry to help curtail the beetle spread accelerating in Alaska over the last three years.

During the 1990s, the spruce beetle epidemic affected over 1.3 million acres statewide, since 2010, that area has grown to 6 million acres, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry. Since the mid 1970s, beetles have destroyed mature spruce trees on 1.2 million acres of the Kenai Peninsula — about 50% of the peninsula’s forested land, according to the Alaska Division of Forestry.

The beetles are active in the summer months, when they emerge from infested trees to new host trees, where they feed and breed.

The $2 million will be used to remove hazard trees and build fuel breaks in Alaska, the press release said.

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