How did a bag of bark beetles from Jerseydale end up on Governor Brown’s desk?

Soon after I took office in January 2015, it became obvious that bark beetles were destroying our pine trees and that what became known as the Tree Mortality Disaster, brought on by the drought, had its epicenter right here in the foothills of Mariposa County, and especially in the Jerseydale area. The beetles would invade a tree suffering from the drought that therefore were unable to pitch out the invader, lay their eggs, and when the tree died, move on to the next tree. With two or three breeding cycles a year, a pair of beetles soon becomes thousands.

A group from Jerseydale and Midpines decided to try to combat this disaster by using strategically placed pheromone attractants and funnel traps that the beetles, with their poor eyesight, would mistake for a real tree. The pheromone attracted them, suggesting that the tree was just right for hosting a party where they could make lots of little bark beetles and that there were plenty of friends there already. My husband, Steve, set up a number of funnel traps, with the pheromones, around our area and would go pretty much every day to empty the traps into plastic bags that he would stick in our freezer to kill the beetles. We removed thousands of beetles from the area this way, and since a pair of beetles and their offspring will turn into thousands of beetles during a single breading season, that’s a lot of bugs and potential dead trees that were hopefully prevented.

At the same time we were fighting bark beetles at home, I was leading a four-county effort, working with other county Supervisors, to convince then Governor Brown to declare a State of Emergency over the tree mortality/bark beetle issue. My husband remembers well answering the phone one evening and hearing, “This is the Governor’s office, is Supervisor Smallcombe available?” I was asked to come to Sacramento to meet with the Governor’s staff to discuss the tree mortality issue. On my way out the door to drive to Sacramento the morning of the meeting, it occurred to me that some people there had no idea what we were contending with. So, I asked Steve, “Can I take one of your bags of beetles?”

At this first meeting were Wade Crowfoot, then a Senior Advisor to the Governor, who led the meeting, Ken Pimlott, head of Calfire, Mark Ghilarducci, head of the Office of Emergency Services, as well as other members of the Governor’s staff. At one point during this first meeting in Sacramento, I brought out my bag of beetles and passed the bag around the table. After the meeting Mark Ghilarducci said, “Can I have the bag of beetles? I want to put it on the Governor’s desk as he is skeptical that bugs are killing the trees.” Of course, I said yes, and not too long thereafter the Governor declared the State of Emergency that we had been seeking. He also formed the state’s Tree Mortality Task Force on which I was pleased to serve for about 3 years. That Task Force is now the California Wildfire and Forest Resilience Task Force.

Did our bag of beetles make a difference in convincing the Governor to declare a state of emergency? Maybe, maybe not, but I am sure removing those beetles, and many others, from our forests did help mitigate the disaster in our neighborhood.