IDYLLWILD, Riverside County (CBS) — California’s historic drought is causing an infestation of bark beetles that’s destroying trees in the states forest lands.

Conservationists say it’s hit epidemic proportions in some areas, and with no end in sight to the dry weather, theres not much they can do about it.

The bark beetle preys on California pines, feasting on thirsty, defenseless trees weakened from years of drought.

“They’re very small, very tiny beetles, about the size of a grain of rice,” said Cal Fire Regional Manager Glenn Barley.

The tiny pests can do huge damage, however. Cal Fire estimates the bark beetles have killed an estimated 800,000 acres of trees last year.

Dead stalks are popping up amongst the evergreen landscapes, particularly in the forests of Central California.

“We’re going to see stands of standing dead, red trees this summer,” said Barley. “That’s going to increase the fire hazard in and around communities all across the state.”

The beetles eat a path through the bark, and then lay their eggs. One mating pair can reproduce more than 12 million beetles a year. At that rate, it’s hard for forestry experts to keep pace with the problem.

Tree removal expert Noah Whitney said he has been cutting trees for 17 years and has never seen it this bad.

“We have a forest that is really suffering right now,” said Whitney. “You’re not just talking about a handful of trees. You’re talking about thousands and thousands of acres of trees.

Experts say without sustained rain in the forecast, the trees will continue to come under attack from these tiny predators.

While bark beetles used to only come out in late summer, with the drought, the pests attack year-round.

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