Interior pest makes a debut in peninsula

Posted: Friday, July 13, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Larch sawflies, Interior insects that feed on a type of ornamental tree, have officially been reported on the Kenai Peninsula for the first time.

A homeowner in Sterling found the winged insects on a Siberian larch in his yard.

Janice Chumley with the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna, intends to stem the infestation before bugs get established in the area.

''I'd like to give homeowners a heads up,'' she said.

The sawflies are native to North America and parts of Alaska. In the mid-1990s their population exploded, causing a major infestation between McGrath and the Alaska Range. It peaked in 1998, when the flies stripped about 450,000 acres. Many trees in the area are now dying, according to the annual Forest Health Report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Forest Service.

''They eat all the needles. They are very efficient defoliators,'' Chumley told the Peninsula Clarion.

The flies, which are now in the caterpillar stage, are specific about their diet. They only eat varieties of larch, some of which are also called tamaracks. The trees are unusual conifers with needles that turn golden in the fall and drop like the leaves of deciduous trees. Interior Alaska is the edge of the natural range of the Eastern tamarack.

Larch are not native to the Kenai Peninsula, but many homeowners have purchased and planted Siberian larch. The trees are attractive and grow quickly.

According to Chumley, larch sawflies were first reported in the Matanuska Valley and Anchorage Bowl in 1998.

Chumley and other specialists said the flies likely were brought to the area by unsuspecting humans who gave them a lift either through digging up roadside trees or on nursery stock.

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