The Southern Pine Beetle
The good news is that as of right now there is very little evidence of the Southern Pine Beetle to be found in the Shawangunks reported Rob Cole, New York State Department of Conservation Forester, in a presentation on the Southern Pine Beetle, SPB, at the Shawangunk Ridge free public lecture series on Thursday the 18th.
The bad news is that the fight is far from over.
The SPB is a bark beetle that infests pine trees. The beetle is small, only 2-4 mm in length, about the size of a grain of rice and is red-brown to black in color.
All pine trees are susceptible, including pitch pine, white pine, and red pine. In addition to pines, hemlocks and spruce may also be affected in highly infested areas. No hardwood tree species are affected.
The beetle bores into the trees through openings in the bark. It makes S-shaped tunnels under the bark and interferes with the tree’s absorption of nutrients. A mass infestation can kill a 60 to 100 year old tree in two to four months.
Pine trees fight back by “pitching out” the invading beetle with a resin that also slows the entry of other invaders. Eventually, however, the trees dies as their defenses are overwhelmed by thousands of beetles.
Infested trees can be identified by a number of indicators- pitch tubes, or popcorn-shaped clumps of resin on the exterior of the bark, shotgun patterned holes on the exterior of the bark, and orange needles. Pine trees that have recently died, characterized by reddish-brown needles.
The SPBs attack from the top down, don’t confuse them with the turpentine beetle which is found on trees about six feet up and down.
Woodpeckers will go after a heavily attacked tree and strip the bark off, the exposed trunk of the tree is red.
The Southern Pine Beetle is called this because it’s native to the southern US, but it’s moving north.
It has been in the New Jersey Pinelands for the past 20 years. NJ lost 50, 000 acres of Pitch Pine; there was nothing in NY prior to 2012.
As far as the DEC can tell the beetle was transported to Long Island by Superstorm Sandy, according to Cole.
With the warming of the climate the SPB is surviving better than the DEC originally thought it would. It’s a southern pest so it’s susceptible to cold and damp. The DEC thinks there has been a 95- 98 percent mortality rate in the past two winters with the extreme cold.
And the SPB has, in one year of expansion, expanded its area of destruction almost 10 times on Long Island.
As the SPB specifically concerns the Shawangunks-the DEC placed Trap Catches at Minnewaska Lake and in the Peterskill area.
“People have been out surveying and we have found a whole wopping nothing, “Cole said.
And the plan is to heavily monitor the area.
The DEC is using Google images to locate yellow or red trees.
The rangers and volunteers perform grid searches back and forth like looking for a missing person. It’s a labor intensive process. Covering 1,000 acres with six people was about two and half day’s work down on Long Island.
The management strategy there, as it will be in the Gunks, is to go out and cut down the afflicted trees. There are no viable chemical treatments, according to Cole.
In the Pinelands on Long Island the DEC cut down over 8,000 trees, killing Southern Pine Beetles by the millions. The rangers score the bark of the downed tree and the bark opens up and pops off exposing the beetles to predation, cold, heat, and moisture.
The most effective time for this is in the warm months.
“Score the tree in the summer and open them up and fry us some Southern Pine Beetle,” as Cole put it.
The average age of trees they were cutting down was about 100 years old, with dimensions of approximately 14 inches in diameter 60 feet tall. They have not found beetles attached to trees less than 10 inches in diameter or about 30 years old.
This leads the DEC to believe that they Dwarf Pines in the Gunks may be safe but there is no precedent and that could turn out to be untrue.
“It’s the food source, if you’ve got nothing to eat you’ll lower your standards pretty quickly, “Cole said.
For every ten dead trees there are 20 actual infested trees. In denser forests the SPB is killing more trees more quickly. One answer is to thin out the forests as a whole.
“A less dense forest is healthier forest,” according to Cole.
At this point there are as many questions as answers.
There is one red tree on the Mohonk Mountain House property. White Pine is another potential host as are Norway Spruce in areas that are heavily attacked. Castle Point has acres of full sized Pitch Pine and there are thousands of acres of Pitch Pine at Minnewaska.
Vigilance is the key.
“Every time you take a picture from the air with a single red tree in it we’re going to go find that tree and cut it down,” Cole said.
As you are out hiking, running, climbing, swimming, or otherwise enjoying the splendor of the Gunks keep an eye out for yellow or red pine trees. If you see anything report it to the Preserve or Park and the NYSDEC at firstname.lastname@example.org .