Tuesday morning, Gina Moran-McGough, with the Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, Dr. Tom Scott, with the University of California, Riverside, and Goldspotted Oak Borer Task Force volunteer and Idyllwild resident Erin O’Neill (right) examine an infected tree on Highway 243. Photo by Marshall Smith

A regional task force charged with stopping the spread of the Goldspotted oak borer across county lines and developing coordinated response plans is forming in Southern California.

The highly destructive pest has caused widespread damage to oaks in San Diego County and has recently been discovered in Idyllwild. The beetle, native to eastern Arizona, has no natural predators in California and has already killed 90,000 oaks in San Diego County.

The beetle has been positively identified in three trees in Idyllwild. Lead GSOB scientist, Dr. Tom Coleman, U.S. Forest Service Forest Health entomologist, examined a suspected fourth tree on Tuesday, Feb. 5. It was found to have no GSOB infestation.

Former CAL FIRE Division Chief and current University of California, Riverside GSOB Program Coordinator Kevin Turner is coordinating formation of the nascent taskforce along with Coleman and Kim Camilli, CAL FIRE forest pest specialist. Turner said the regional group would operate under the auspices of the Southern California Committee of the California Forest Pest Council.

Turner said organizers are in the process of trying to identify potential key participants in all California counties from Ventura County south to the Mexican border.

Dr. Tom Scott (center) explains to Goldspotted Oak Borer Task Force volunteers and the Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council Woodies what GSOB does and does not look like. Photo by Marshall Smith

“This group would be a GSOB information clearing house and a place to develop, coordinate and share GSOB response strategies,” Turner said. “It will give us a collective voice from Southern California to make us more effective when seeking support [financial and legislative] from state and federal levels of government for GSOB-related efforts.”

Turner indicated the task force would provide a place for counties, municipalities, utility companies, Caltrans and the state and national forests to share information and develop response plans. The task force could also promote legislative action to stop Goldspotted oak borer spread by restricting firewood transportation. Firewood has been identified as the medium of transportation for the beetle’s spread.

Turner sent an email to a wide variety of public agencies and officials asking them to help identify stakeholders to attend a GSOB taskforce kickoff meeting. “The kickoff meeting will be scheduled once we have received your feedback about your county’s appropriate participants,” Turner announced. “We anticipate the meeting to be held in March or April.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 6, Turner and UCR’s Tom Scott were in Idyllwild providing field-identification training for Mountain Communities Fire Safe Council Woodies and CALFIRE personnel. CALFIRE Mountain Battalion Chief Gregg Bratcher said the effort is designed to have more trained spotters on the ground. Anyone who thinks an oak is infested should call (951) 659-3850. Turner’s email address is [email protected].