Thinking of going camping at Dos Picos this summer? County park rangers are suggesting you travel a little lighter and ditch the firewood, thanks to the gold-spotted oak borer that is killing tens of thousands of trees in San Diego County.
Rangers don’t want infestations to spread and, according to County News Center (CNC), the larva can live in wood for years.
“They dig in about one to two inches and ruin the transfer process so nutrients can’t get to branches,” county park ranger Roger Covalt said.
Rangers are concerned that taking infested firewood to a campground may mean the death of even more oak trees and the ruin of what was once a beautiful park.
According to CNC, three county parks are struggling with the pest. They include here in Ramona, William Heise near Julian and Louis Stelzer County Park in Lakeside. Park officials fear the beetle is also attacking trees at Volcan Mountain Open Space Preserve, also located near Julian.
The damage already ranges from Pine Valley north to Lake Henshaw with ground zero being the Cuyamaca area. Two San Diego City parks are also suffering the effects, Marian Bear and Kate Sessions Parks.
The gold-spotted oak borer is a brown flat-headed beetle with gold spots on its wings and is smaller than a penny. The pest attacks Coast live oaks, Canyon live oaks and California black oaks.
The borer was first discovered in 2006 along State Route 79 and county entomologist Tracy Ellis believes it entered San Diego County through firewood brought from Arizona. Ellis says the tiny beetles do not seem to cause the same kind of damage in Arizona, though the reason remains unknown. There are some, but no significant, natural enemies here.
“The area of concern is that the borer will spread northward from Julian and make the jump to Palomar Mountain,” Ellis said according to CNC. “As far as California goes, this pest is only found in SD County.”
The damage to trees has been devasting, thanks to the gold-spotted borer. CNC reports one of the oldest oaks in San Diego County that stood near the main restroom at the William Heise County Park in Julian has been killed. The tiny brown beetle devastated the majestic tree, which once stood about 60 feet tall with a canopy arching over 70 feet. The tree had to be cut down along with about 1,000 other oaks of all sizes.
Right now, there aren’t any effective ways to fight the infestations. Bio-control methods will probably be tested at Heise, but all that can be done right now is to try to contain the infestations.
So how can you help? Officials are asking campers to buy firewood where you burn it and don’t bring any back home with you. Ellis says some firewood is okay for the campground, like avocado, citrus and eucalyptus firewood.
Commercial firewood should also be safe to bring, but make sure it doesn’t have any bark on it. If you don't know if your wood is ok to bring with you, check with your campground before taking any firewood on your trip.
Ellis says certain campgrounds in the county are not allowing entry of firewood from other places in the county; you’re required to buy it at the campground. Covalt says Heise is giving away its cut firewood but only to visitors who plan to burn it at the park.
CNC says there isn’t a formal quarantine, but local, state and federal agencies are working together to try to protect the oak trees.