wild pinyon pines dying of scale

RIP PJ Forest

Except for a 5-day walk from here to Westgard pass (about 60 miles along the White Mountains crest, with 17,500′ up/down elevation gain/loss), I’ve been working as much as I can bear to with the trees I mentioned in my last post. After digging up aphid eggs for about a month, I returned just in time to find the scale eggs hatched and hatching. Now it’s time to spray them with somewhat environmentally-friendly oils, so I started that. Temps are in the 90s, and breezy every afternoon. Terrible conditions for spraying. Visibility gets worse each day as new wildfires or dust storms kick up. And whereas I thought once the eggs hatched there would be aphids, or at least aphids in the size and color I imagined, there are not. There are tiny little black specks, barely visible to the eye, which crawl off in every direction, covering quite some ground given their size. They’ve moved into the trees and have taken place on the piƱon needles. This is it. And as I have walked around with my Ortho sprayer (and hardly a prayer) these past few days, it’s dawning on me: the trees have almost all already died. While I’m spraying, a lacewing comes down and I feel guilty, stop spraying. I wonder if the sawfly larvae I’ve been seeing have pupated. I notice more mistletoe than I ever noticed before. I wonder if the only ladybug to land on my hat was the only ladybug. I keep seeing them on the high points in Nevada, but why up there? Why at 10,000 feet, freezing your asses off, ladies? Come down and eat!

Anyway, it’s too late, the pinyon trees around here have all died, except a very few, which are next. Seeing the number of crawlers coming from a shot-glass sized clump of collar soil, I realize that the scale reached critical mass last year. Everything I’ve tried, all the work I’ve done, has been futile.

It’s time to put on the chainsaw safety gear I bought and start the cleanup so that when this forest burns, we don’t all go down with it. I think I got a lot of my grieving done as I tended to these trees. I did the best I could to nurse them, but I think subconsciously I knew it was beyond my control. My hands bled and my face peeled. I saved all my urine and dishwater and watered them. I put out fresh water to bring insect and bird life to the area (it worked). I write this I’m covered in mineral oil and neem. I did try! It was such a hopeless project, though. And the pinyon’s skeletons are showing through. Many of them are signaling they’re ready to be chopped down. It’s almost like they’re jumping at the blade, they’re dying so fast. The juniper trees have the only green left.

Since these days I feel like I’m starring in my own dystopian action film, I’m going to move toward the next step… with a chainsaw and a few burn barrels. I’m now a property owner, which makes me feel this responsibility — and the need to “firescape” — even more urgently. I bought the land knowing I was about to lose at least half the trees on it, but like I always say when walking through disturbed forests, I love it anyway. In solidarity.

RIP pinyons.