Dr. Kay Shumway is anxious to determine just what is causing the problem. There are literally millions of the trees in San Juan County. They are known locally as cedar trees
“They are dying off by the thousands all over the area, including Cedar Mesa, Muley Point, Alkali Ridge, and Muley Canyon,” said Shumway.
“I have tried to get the attention of officials at Utah State University, the Grand Canyon Trust, and the federal land agencies, but have not had any luck.”
Shumway said he has investigated several of the dead and dying trees and found a larvae of some sort that may be causing the problem. “This larvae may be digging through the bark and girdling the trees,” said Shumway.
Dr. Shumway is a retired botanist who was the first faculty member of the College of Eastern Utah in Blanding. He said an entomologist, who studies insects, may be able to determine the cause.
“This is a big thing,” said Shumway. “I hope that someone will investigate. There is a PhD dissertation here.”
The Durango Herald ran an article in January, 2018 that discussed a similar issue in southwest Colorado. The article said it was too early to determine a cause, but suggested that the trees may recover.
“But they didn’t recover,” said Shumway. “They went ahead and died.”
Shumway said he first noticed the dying trees on Cedar Mesa near Muley Point, on the south edge of the mesa.
“The die-off seems to be traveling northward on Cedar Mesa,” said Shumway. “The trees are now dying about four miles further north than they were just a little while ago.”
A wide variety of factors may be influencing the issue, including drought, a warm winter, climate change, beetle and larvae infestation, and more.
The tree communities in San Juan County have faced a number of challenges in recent years. Several years ago, Forest Service officials were concerned about a bark beetle that was attacking pine trees. In addition, aspen groves have faced a threat that has thinned the aspen stands in the area.
Many of these threats may help the forests because they attack weak trees and leave healthy trees alone.
However, Shumway said this appears to be a wholesale loss of trees.
“There are miles and miles of dead trees,” said Shumway. “This is killing the little guys who are by themselves, the nice beautiful young trees, and the old timers are going also.
“It’s a shame because junipers are supposed to be so hardy.”