Environmental consultant Dan Johnson's tree and home are at the corner of Santa Barbara Street and Point Loma Avenue.
Pointing out his tree there has been rapidly turning brown, Johnson noted that means “It's apparently beyond saving due to bark beetles.” But he was quick to add his contention that, “It could have been saved with some preventative maintenance, had we only known.”
Johnson thought at first his landmark pine just needed water due to the recent drought. But, he added, a neighbor clued him in that, “By the time it starts to turn yellow/brown – it's too late.”
But, added Johnson, “You can treat ahead of time. I bet people with big trees would like to know that, and also to push the city to take better care (of them).”
Johnson's dying tree is drawing lots of attention.
“Now we get one to two knocks on the door per week, what is wrong with your pine tree, did you know it is sick?” he said.
Ian Campbell, of Davey Tree Service, concurred with Johnson on two points: Bark beetle infestation is a serious and growing problem, and yes, something can – and should – be done to prevent it.
Noting invasive beetles are continually entering the country clandestinely through things like wood-shipping containers from China, Campbell noted “there are a slew of boring insects we deal with when trees are under stress.” Acknowledging that the climate was plenty stressful the previous four years of severe drought, Campbell said drought weakens trees making them more more accessible to beetles.
“As a byproduct of that stress, the tree begins to release more ethanol, which is an attractant to the boring insects, which know (from scent) which trees are sick and weaker – the ones they go for,” he said.
The licensed arborist noted there are chemical treatments that “help suppress boring insects.”
But Campbell added those treatments must be done preventatively as beetle-infected trees have “a 95 percent mortality rate, with the trees being completely dead in a matter of weeks or months.”
But, pointed out Campbell, if done appropriately, safe chemicals can be injected into trees that have proven results in warding off beetles.
Campbell said it's also a misnomer that such chemical treatments are not effective in forests, pointing out San Diego is an urban forest where, “We have very good success rates of keeping beetles from spreading.”
He added, “Taking steps, now, is the only way to prevent them.”
Campbell wrote a letter to the city on Johnson's behalf noting, “There are no treatments to the tree in question that will prevent its inevitable death. Based on my experience and training, I recommend immediate removal of the tree to limit the spread of infestation into other nearby healthy trees as a cultural control to manage boring insects.”
Johnson said his point in drawing attention to his dying legacy pine is to “raise awareness of people who can do something to affect the outcome (of their trees).”
Johnson pointed out his pine is “technically on city property, and despite begging them to take care of it, they have refused, and continue to refuse saying, 'not planning on taking any action at this time,' despite best management practices dictating removal upon infection to attempt to prevent other trees from being infected.”
Johnson added, whenever the tree is removed, he'd like to replace it “with a nice specimen tree or a local pine to pay homage to the tree that used to be there.”
“It's too late for me – but it may not be too late for other people,” said Johnson. “We actually are going through a grieving process if you can believe that. The neighborhood too.”