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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Forest Health Specialist Joins NMSU

LAS CRUCES - Idaho native Stephani Sandoval has joined New Mexico State University's extension plant sciences department as an assistant professor and forest health specialist.

Based in Santa Fe, Sandoval will work with the public on forest health issues ranging from insect damage to clearing spaces around homes in wildfire-prone areas. "I grew up in a logging area and became interested in forest health when I was still in junior high school," she said.

With a strong background in forest entomology, Sandoval has worked extensively with insects such as the Douglas fir tussock moth, which is a major tree defoliator in the western states. She also has studied a number of wood-boring beetles, including the devastating bark beetle.

A multiyear dry spell and an army of bark beetles have launched a devastating attack on many of New Mexico's trees, setting the stage for a massive die-off and increasing wildfire danger. The voracious B-B-sized pests, combined with the drought, affected more than 160,000 acres of piņon and other trees across the state in 2002 alone, according to U.S. Forest Service statistics.

Bark beetles burrow under the bark of piņon, pine and ponderosa trees and lay their eggs in the soft tissue, Sandoval said. The beetle larvae devour the tissue, which is the tree's circulatory system, stopping the flow of nutrients and moisture and killing it.

"Insect damage is definitely something requiring more attention these days," Sandoval said. "Home owners in particular need to start taking action, including thinning and reducing stress by watering their trees. A drought stressed tree is weakened and more susceptible to insect damage."

Sandoval plans to make general and technical forestry presentations across the state in 2004. She will also conduct several damage surveys for portions of the state affected by drought and bark beetle damage.

Prior to joining NMSU, Sandoval worked as a firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service in Silverton, Idaho, and as a seasonal forester with the Plum Creek Timber Company in Libby, Mont. She also served as a research assistant in the forestry department at the University of Idaho-Moscow.

Sandoval, who is a member of the Society of American Foresters, earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in forest resources from the University of Idaho. She and her husband, Orlando, live in Angel Fire.