Spruce beetles have killed off trees in more than one million acres in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

Now those dead trees are causing problems for utility companies. Matanuska Electric Association (MEA) reports 17 outages caused by beetle-kill falling on power lines in the first few months of this year.

Clearing Foreman Travis Powell has been working for MEA for more than 20 years. He’s on one of several crews working near Trapper Creek to protect power lines in the right-of-way.

“In Matanuska’s 4,000 miles this is the worst I’ve seen it. It’s pretty much every direction you go,” Powell said.

The crews make quick work of the easy ones but the sheer density of the dead trees makes for slow going.

“Each crew is cutting 100 trees a day and we’re not getting very far,” Powell said, adding they’re lucky to get through half a mile in a day.

Since they started in the middle of April, they’ve cut down more than 1,300. Because the wind in the Valley shifts during different times of the year, they have to be cautious and cut down any tree that could reach the lines.

“The trees we’re taking may be leaning a little away from the wires but we don’t know if the wind in December is going to change and blow this way, so when in doubt we’re taking them down,” Powell explained.

Safety and providing reliable power are a couple of their top priorities. Their work also plays a larger part in the borough’s effort to fight the infestation.

“We do work with a local task force on these issues. We work with local forestry and different agencies with the borough, and we’re trying to collaborate to come up with better results because of the issues taking place,” said Gregory Chamberlain, the senior manager of operations.

MEA crews have also removed more than 200 trees from private properties this year. Powell said it’s not a job people should try to take on themselves.

“Almost everyone has 20 years of experience doing this,” he said. “So I would advise the public, if there’s a tree next to a power line, call a professional, call MEA. Don’t do anything that’s going to get you hurt.”

MEA asks people to call 907-761-9386 immediately if they see a tree touching a power line and says don’t touch the tree because it may be energized.

People who are concerned about a danger tree on their property possibly falling into the line can file an online report and email it to MEA’s clearing department.

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