Beetles take big bite out of pines

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2000

Staff Writer

July 19, 2000 10 PM

It may be less than an inch long, but it’s enough to cause loss of millions of dollars.

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Considered the most destructive forest insect in the South, the Southern pine beetle has shown how harmful it really can be this summer.

According to the Alabama Forestry Commission, the Southern pine beetle is killing trees at an alarming rate.

By the end of June, $28 million worth of pines had been killed.

In Pike County, alone, some 500 trees have been affected in 20 different spots. For forestry officials that classifies the problem here as "an epidemic."

The state’s drought conditions have weakened pine trees ­ since they can’t produce the life-preserving sap ­ and made the forests more susceptible to beetle attacks, killing pines in large volumes.

According to a release from the AFC, "A pine tree’s normal defense from the beetle, the production of pitch, has shut down because of the long-term drought."

That means a beetle entrance to the bark is easier and so is killing the pines.

June numbers showed 8,700 infestations and early indicators, such as aerial detection and mapping of infestations, shows the numbers are doubling and even tripling.

Alabama’s forests are composed of 21 million acres of trees and 11.9 million of that acreage is classified as pine. Of those acres, close to two million are listed as "high hazard" to the Southern pine beetle.

The Alabama Forestry Commissions is asking forest owners to check timberlands for infestation and control spots as soon as possible.

"Land owners need to start paying attention to their timber, and if they’ve got beetles, they need to start controlling them as soon as possible," said JIm Hyland, chief of forest health for the Alabama Forestry Commission.

The first signs of attack of this small brown/black beetle is the yellowing or browning of pine needles.

Examination of the truck will likely reveal white, yellow or reddish brown pitch tubes about the size of a wad of bubble gum. Under dry conditions like the ones being experienced here, pitch tubes may be very small or absent with only a reddish-brown boring dust left behind.

A closer look at the tree by removal of the bark, will show a distinctive "S" shape pattern.

Foresters are saying individual infestations should be controlled by cutting both the infested pines and a buffer strip around them. Buffer zones should be measured as the same width as the height of the infested trees.

Suppression of the pine beetle can be accomplished by three techniques:

· Timely removal and utilization of merchantable infested material.

· Piling and burning of material that can’t be sold.

· Or, as a last resort, chemically treatment.

Control efforts should be a year-round project.

The Forestry Commission advises any thinning of pine stands should be delayed until cooler, wetter weather. By waiting, foresters could reduce the possibility of injuring standing pines and causing further attack by the beetle.

It is also recommended the trimming of any right-of-way pines, such as power lines, roads and gas lines, be postponed until a change in the weather conditions.