New Mexico forests show some improvement in dealing with insects, a new report reveals

SANTA FE, NM (KRQE) – Every year, New Mexico environmental officials report on the health of the state’s trees and forests. Recent reports show improved forest health in some areas, which may be due to increased moisture, among other factors.

“We’re in a very different place than we were two years ago,” said Victor Lucero, New Mexico’s forest health program coordinator, in a press release. “We found only 2,000 acres of tree mortality last year compared to 188,000 acres in 2022. Bark beetles were also at record lows across the state. However, bark beetle activity near burn scars was still observed in late summer and early fall, and we will continue to monitor these areas throughout 2024.”

Published by the New Mexico Department of Forestry 2023 Forest Health Reportwhich states that “the number of acres of forest and woodland mapped with insect, disease, and drought-stress losses decreased significantly by 363,000 acres, or 50%, across all land ownership types in New
Mexico from 2022.

Despite improvements, there are still more than 33,000 acres where trees have died from bark beetles and more than 230,000 acres are defoliated, or have lost needles and leaves, usually due to bug damage.

The report notes that northern New Mexico, in particular, has increased true fir defoliation due to Douglas-fir, spruce trees, and western spruce budworm. But, improved drought conditions and monsoon moisture in 2022 and early 2023 have helped trees around the state produce more resin, which helps keep insects at bay, the forest department says.

While the report offers some good news, worsening drought and an increase in western spruce budworm through late 2023 could be cause for concern as New Mexico’s forests continue to cope with climate change, the Forest Department says. And environmentalists like Teresa Seamster, a volunteer with the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, say it’s important to look at the big, multi-year picture when it comes to forest health.

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