SFNF Tackles Parasitic Mistletoe In Jemez Mountains

Parasitic Mistletoe. Courtesy/wikipedia.com

SFNF News:

  • Public Field Trip To Infected Area Sept. 24

SANTA FE – Initial surveys on the Santa Fe National Forest’s Southwest Jemez Mountains Collaborative Landscape Restoration project underestimated the incidence and severity of dwarf mistletoe infection in some stands. Stands along Forest Road (FR) 10 are heavily infected with the native parasitic plant that reduces the growth, seed production and life span of infected trees.

The areas of heavy mistletoe infestation total about 530 acres, including smaller patches along FR 270, around Sierra los Pinos, and along the East Fork trail. The recommended treatment for these heavily infected areas is to remove the infected trees and plant healthy young trees that can mature into a healthy stand. Without intervention, these heavily infected stands are likely to die out, leaving just oak brush and grass.

Dwarf mistletoe has been evolving along with its host trees for millions of years and are a natural part of the ecosystem, with a role in providing food and nesting sites for birds and mammals. However, the mistletoe in these infected parcels is unnaturally high, due to fire suppression and overcrowded forests. The Forest Service goal for treatment is to return the mistletoe to its natural levels.

Dwarf mistletoes are slow-acting but deadly pathogens that cause significant damage to infected trees. The parasitic plant’s sticky seeds are explosively discharged, raining down on the understory and adhering to any surface they strike.  If it happens to be on a host tree, that young tree may be infected, although it can take three to four year before the infection is visible.  Young trees that are infected will not grow to maturity.

Tree mortality caused by heavy dwarf mistletoe infection can increase the risk of high-intensity wildfire on the landscape.  Two clear signs of dwarf mistletoe infection are dwarf mistletoe plants and witches’ brooms, the abnormal clumps of twigs and foliage that form as the parasite’s root structure steals nutrients from the host tree.  In the event of wildfire, the brooms may provide ladder fuel that leads to crown fires.

The Jemez Ranger District is planning an “open house” at one of the infected sites on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, to show members of the public the extent of the mistletoe infestation and explain the planned treatment.  Forest staff will meet with interested members of the public at the corner of FR 10 and FR 136 anytime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.  Please call the Jemez Ranger District at 575.829.3535 for more information or to sign up for the open house in the woods.  

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