Getting rid of beetle-infested spruce trees at state campgrounds in the Mat-Su could cost more than $1 million. The State Parks superintendent for the Mat-Su area, Stuart Leidner, said the state is working to secure federal funding through the U.S. Forest Service for the project.

Signs of spruce beetle kill are all over the South Rolly Lake campground in the Nancy Lake State Recreation Area.

“This is a spruce beetle hole right here. You can kind of see they're all over the place. Looks like someone shot it with a shot gun, there's like little holes. So this is like mass attack,” said area forester Stephen Nickel with the Division of Forestry.

He said the division started monitoring the problem around 2015. Now the spruce beetle population is overwhelming.

“We’re approaching a million acres worth of spruce beetle activity,” Nickel said.

The excessive amount of dead trees have impacted several campgrounds. Alaska State Parks closed the South Rolly Lake campground and the Byers Lake campground in Denali State Park. Superintendent Leidner said it’s not safe to have people in tents or RVs near the towering dead spruce.

“If there’s a wind event or any other situation where those trees are coming down, we’re just inherently increasing the risk to the population who’s are enjoying these recreation spots,” Leidner explained.

It’s not a decision he made lightly because the closures come at a cost. Each campground has more than 60 sites; keeping those empty all summer means a substantial loss of fees, which is estimated at $150,000.

Leidner said that’s the price of keeping people out of harm’s way.

“Our goal is to get these open as quickly as possible and get the public back in recreating. But we really do have the public safety in mind first,” Leidner said.

In an effort to possibly open an area for day-use at South Rolly, the state brought in park specialists to being taking out some of the trees.

“We still want to allow people to get to the lake but we can’t have that ongoing camping situation just because we’re looking at 160 acres that we need to address,” Leidner said.

Leidner said Division of Forestry staff have come up with an initial estimate of $1.2 million for forestry crews to use hand tools to remove the hazardous trees around 23 campgrounds and cabins.

He said that money would likely come from U.S. Forest Service funds, which have not been secured yet. They’re looking at all options including hiring contractors to do the work.

“It’s not a cheap endeavor to try to go out and mitigate these situations,” Leidner said.

But he said the state can’t allow the general public to come in and chop down trees for firewood.

“There are issues with liability for having people out here felling trees, not knowing what their experience level is,” Leidner explained. “You have to be an experienced feller to be doing this work.”

The U.S. Forest Service, UAF Cooperative Extension Service and Department of Natural Resources have created a website with information about spruce beetles along with workshops people can attend to solve the problem in their own backyard.

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