The Real Culprit of California’s Wildfires

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired),

Dave Powell, USDA Forest Service (retired),

By: Adam Doklovic, Agribusiness and Applied Economics | Mansfield, Ohio

In the past few years most of California has been in a massive drought, which has created apocalyptic looking wildfires. According to Angela Johnston, a journalist from a local radio station in San Francisco, California has had over 5,000 wildfires this year alone, and it’s not even considered wildfire season yet!

This summer has been extremely difficult in not only preventing wildfires but also containing them. Why have these fires been able to spread so easily? The question should be more focused with whom than of why. Now we ask, who has been the culprit to allow the rapid spread of these wildfires, none other than a beetle that is only 5 millimeters long.

The Western Pine Beetle is native to many parts of the world but here in the United States the beetle has been taking advantage of California’s drought. Just as when a human is dehydrated, he/she becomes susceptible to a greater number of health issues, the same goes for trees. The Western Pine Beetle is a species of bark beetle that can infest trees that are stressed.  When they infest a tree already struggling with dehydration, the tree has little chance to survive and usually ends up dying.

In California alone the Western Pine Beetle is estimated to have killed over 66 million trees. This has created a lot of standing firewood to allow a massive fire spread in a rapid amount of time.

Next time you turn on the news and the media is blaming global warming, or a rogue campfire for a massive forest fire that is engulfing California just remember that there could be other factors at play, even a microscopic beetle.

Adam Doklovic is currently an undergraduate student at Ohio State and experienced the California drought first hand while interning with the USDA in the Bay Area during summer 2016.


Dead trees are fueling California wildfires, but what’s killing the trees? (KALW San Francisco)

This blog post was an assignment for Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.


Will They Survive?

bmsb_blogby Jennifer Fullenkamp, Sustainable Plant Systems major

I recently moved and noticed that there were a lot of brown marmorated stink bugs. I thought that it was just something with the house until I talked with some family members and friends. They too have noticed a rise in these stink bugs.

These bugs are a nasty pest with a strong, foul odor. Right when you think you disposed of the unpleasant critters, another is found right after the other. Unfortunately there is no good way to rid yourself of them. My mother and I have been finding them left and right, in every nook and cranny. A piece of advice: try to find where they are entering the house and block their entrance.

These little pests were first discovered in the U.S. in 2001. Since then, they have become an agronomical and house pest without many predators to control them or any insecticide to kill them.

Because they are not being picky eaters, the stink bug can cause a lot of damage on several varieties of plants (many fruit crops, common landscape plants and crops such as soybean and corn). The bugs eat the fruit and the leaves on plants, leaving behind perforated and destroyed crops and ornamental plants that cannot be used or sold.

I am fearful that marmorated stink bugs are going to be a pest that will take over and destroy a lot of food crops and ornamental plants that I work with every day. I dread what the world’s and my future might look like in the horticultural and floricultural industry in the next decade.

Still, there is one question that keeps playing through my mind. “What plants will survive this pesky pest?”

For more information on the marmorated stink bug:
Ohioline – Brown Marmorated Stink Bug fact sheet (pdf)

This blog post was an assignment for  Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.


Conservation Aims to Preserve Bee Populations

By Adam Rine, Sustainable Plant Systems major

It is relatively easy to get so caught up in focusing on how a single process may impact the environment that we simply overlook how a combination of agricultural production practices can alter biological processes. One specific example is the drastic decline in honeybee populations across the nation. An article, written by John Schwartz, featured in The New York Times – Program Looks to Give Bees a Leg (or Six) Up – puts the current honeybee situation into perspective, highlighting the impacts production agriculturalists may face as a result.

Schwartz reports, “The cause of declining bee populations, both native and commercially raised bees, may be a result of a combination of factors including parasites, infections and insecticide use.”

In many cases, agriculturalists use insecticides to protect their crops from excess pest damage. These insecticide applications are not targeted to impact the bee populations but ultimately might. Schwartz includes information regarding the current actions that are being examined to compensate for negative effects of insecticide applications.

Schwartz reports that implementing ethical management practices such as including hedgerows rich in pollen to provide food sources and protective cover for bee populations may have a mutual benefit to bee populations and agriculturalists.

Many crops depend on bee pollination and bees depend on crops for pollen sources. Finding an acceptable balance between crop production and  the health of honeybee populations well-being will likely result in beneficial outcomes for both.

For more information refer to New York Times article (4/2/2012), which can be found at:

This blog post was an assignment for  Societal Issues: Pesticides, Alternatives and the Environment (PLNTPTH 4597). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the class, Department of Plant Pathology or the instructor.

Will this cold winter kill off invasive pests?

Emerald ash borer

Photo: Debbie Miller, USDA Forest Service,

Maybe there’s a bright side to this historic winter in the Northeast U.S.  This cold weather is likely killing unwanted insects such as the emerald ash borer and the hemlock woolly adelgid. The emerald ash borer has spread throughout the northeast and Canada, damaging and killing ash trees in its wake.  The hemlock woolly adelgid, first detected in Ohio in 2012, threatens eastern hemlock and Carolina hemlock in the Eastern U.S.

Will it kill off the insects entirely? Unfortunately, no. Some insects will survive, somewhere, somehow. In time, the invasive pests will become established again. But a cold, hard winter like this will knock down populations and slow them down.

The headlines of this article from the reads, “Please, polar vortex, ice these garden pests.”  The article is about the brown marmorated stink bug, a pest of agricultural crops, landscapes and a nuisance in our homes. Unfortunately, stink bugs might be keeping warm in our attics and cracks in our walls.

Read more

> Please, Polar Vortex, Ice These Garden Pests (

> Celebrating Deep Freeze, Insect Experts See a Chance to Kill Off Invasive Species (NY Times)