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Pine Beetles Causing Scare

A mild winter and recent drought throughout the southeast have made our forests subject to some of the smallest, most destructive of insects.

Timber owners in Alabama and Georgia have already noticed widespread southern pine beetle infestations throughout pine stands. The tiny beetles, about the size of a grain of rice, burrow into the inner bark of the tree, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients to the branches. Drought causes trees to slow their sap production, the main defense against the burrowing insects.

Forest industry professionals fear a repeat of the 2002 season, in which foresters in Georgia alone reported $57 million in losses. The problem abounds in southern Alabama, where wind damage from the 2005 hurricane season had already weakened massive stands of forest.

The problem is not limited to Georgia or Alabama. Almost the entire southeast has experienced drier than average conditions so far this year and west coast foresters fear similar outbreaks. Currently, the beetles’ work is hardly noticeable, but once the trees receive significant rain again the needles of infested pines will immediately turn brown. Dust piles around tree roots, indicative of insect boring, is another sign of infestation.

Timber owners will be forced to harvest infected trees at that point, to eliminate the spread of beetles to near-by, healthy trees. Chemical solutions are available, but are often far too expensive to private land owners.

To mitigate costs for these private owners, the state of Florida has recently reinstated the Southern Pine Beetle Prevention Cost Share Program. The idea of the program is preemptive. Florida government officials hope to provide landowners resources needed to reduce susceptibility of the pines.
Management practices such as thinning or select burning may help in areas with infestation or history of infestation.

If you think you may have an infected stand, or would like to learn more:

http://forests.org/links/
Forestry Encyclopedia

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