TAOS COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – People in northern New Mexico are noticing an unwanted pest, that is changing the scenery. According to bug experts, a moth is wreaking havoc on properties full of evergreen trees.
“The forest went from green to basically a yellowish brown in about a month,” said Jack Carpenter, a Contract Forester for Taos Soil and Water Conservation District.
It’s a bug problem that Taos-area property owners didn’t expect; the Douglas Fir Tussock Moth, a creature that’s always present in the area but this year their population is bigger than normal. “They’re defoliators which means they eat the needles off trees and they start with white Fir, move to Douglas Fir, and they will eat spruce but they don’t like it,” said Carpenter.
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Jack Carpenter mentioned it’s been 30 years since he’s seen the moth population grow this big in the area. The outbreaks can usually last up to 3 or 4 years. Trees that lose their needles will only recover if they aren’t hit a second year in a row. “The recommendations is if there’s a lot of White Fir, you need to thin them back so the food source is gone,” added Carpenter.
Another recommendation from experts is natural bacteria or insecticides. The Taos-area outbreak is still in early stages according to the forest service. The service said a different New Mexico forest is coming off a similar outbreak. “An outbreak occurred on the Cibola forest on the southern tip of the Manzanos and that hadn’t been seen for some time. Doing the surveys, the last two years, that seems to be coming to a conclusion,” said Steven Souder, Entomologist with the USDA Forest Service.
The conservation district said its heard from plenty of neighbors who are worried the moths may weaken or kill the trees making for possible fire dangers. “We have been here a long while, would like to stay longer, and protect as best we can the natural beauty that we have,” said B.T. Coleman, a homeowner in Arroyo Seco who has many trees on his property which have been impacted by the moths.
For now, the moths are in cocoons for the winter, but the forest service said that won’t stop them. The moths will be back in the spring, to continue wreaking havoc on the area and will lay hundreds of eggs. However, the forest service said a late freeze could help fight the moths.