Invasive insect species spreading through Utah, threatening forests

May 30, 2024, 10:00 PM

Utah's forests are being endangered by an invasive insect species....

FILE-- Utah's forests are being endangered by an invasive insect species. (Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest)

(Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest)

SALT LAKE CITY — An invasive species of insect that has been spreading here in Utah over the past few years is threatening many of the state’s forests.

It’s called the Balsam Woolly Adelgid, or BWA. It sucks the sap out of subalpine fir trees, simultaneously poisoning them. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the invasive insect entered the United States from Europe in the early 20th century. They’ve been populating in Utah since 2017. 

“It is a sap-sucking insect. It finds a feeding location on a tree and pretty much sets up shop there for the rest of its life and feeds on tree sap,” said Mickey Campbell, with the University of Utah’s Department of Geography.

Campbell and his team have been mapping the progression of the infestation. They believe climate change could make it even worse.

“Generally warmer areas are those that are seeing the highest severity of BWA damage, so naturally in a warming climate, BWA insects could and indeed are likely to extend in our region,” he said.

Campbell said there’s not much they can do to exterminate them. However there are other things, namely forest management practices, to prevent its spread.

“It’s not so much about proactively trying to remove the insects so much as it is proactively trying to promote forest management practices that may mitigate the long term damage.” 

Campbell said forest management primarily involves cleaning up the dead trees and planting other tree species. 

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Invasive insect species spreading through Utah, threatening forests