WILLIAMS, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Juniper trees are dying in Arizona's Prescott and Kaibab National forests at an alarming rate, and drought is behind the die-off according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The US Forest Service has been investigating a significant die-off of juniper trees. On the Prescott and Kaibab National Forests approximately 50,000 to 100,000 acres of junipers have been affected in the area between Paulden and Ash Fork along Highway 89 and I-40.
The die-off has been seen north of Williams along Highway 64. The majority of affected trees are shaggy bark juniper species, including Utah juniper and one-seed juniper. In addition, forest officials have been noting mortality of individual and small patches of alligator juniper in the higher elevations surrounding the City of Prescott.
Forest Service officials say the mortality rate is varied, with most areas showing die-off of 5-30% of trees, with some larger pockets of dead junipers ranging from 1 to 15 acres.
Current assessments by US Forest Service-Forest Health Protection office in Flagstaff suggest that the majority of this mortality is caused by the exceptional drought that this part of Arizona is experiencing. While there have been some scattered observations of insects on dead trees, Forest Health Protection believes that the initial cause of death is directly tied to water stress.
Trees impacted by drought show a change in color of their needle-like scales, which typically starts at the branch tips and spreads down the tree, fading from green to a bright yellow.