Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Alaska region forest health professionals act fast to address blight

Pruned limbs infected with Spruce Bud Blight are pruned and burned to contain the first know outreach of the disease in Southeast Alaska. Forest Service photo by Elizabeth Graham.

Alaska Region State and Private Forestry staff treat Sitka Spruce trees for the first known outbreak of Spruce Bud Blight in southeast Alaska. Pictured from left to right: Robin Mulvey, Isaac Davis, and Maja Nilsson. Forest Service photo by Elizabeth Graham.

State and Private Forestry Forest Health Protection staff in the Alaska Region took swift action after detecting the first known occurrence of spruce bud blight in Southeast Alaska. During a field routine visit to monitor other known and common damages of native trees on private lands in Juneau, Alaska, an SPF employee’s attention to detail resulted in the identification of five Sitka spruce trees infected with the blight.

The blight is thought to be native to Central Asia and in some settings has severely damaged or killed spruce trees. While this is the first detection in Southeast Alaska, the blight has been found in recent years at numerous locations hundreds of miles away in the south central and interior regions of the state. Studies are underway to evaluate the distribution of this tree disease in Alaska and to assess the genetic diversity of the causal fungus. These approaches can help to unravel how long it has been in Alaska and assess its status as a native or non-native organism. At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest encompasses 85 percent of the region’s land base.

Armed with the knowledge that rapid response offered the best chance at controlling the outbreak, the Forest Service SPF staff quickly coordinated action with the private land owner. Less than 4 days after the blight was detected on June 27, the team removed the infected trees as well as pruned and burned infected limbs. Simultaneous with the on-the-ground work, alerts and an informational flyer about the blight was distributed through the Forest Service’s social media network to educate and engage the public in the important work of monitoring for other outbreaks. The outreach has also resulted in a local media story.

The mission of the Alaska Region SPF Forest Health Protection program is to protect and enhance forest health through the transfer of information and resources to landowners and managers.