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Forestry officials warn of growing Pine Beetle threat

They’re one of the most destructive insects in the region, and they are showing up with surprising strength this summer.

     Southern Pine Beetles never really go away. However, according to Dave Chabreck with the U.S. Forest Service in Meadville, this year they have become particularly bad.

     “Every six to 12 years, for one reason or another, the population seems to go on a big increase,” Chabreck said. “It’s just part of that natural cycle that population levels go through.”

     The U.S. Forest Service and the Mississippi Forestry Commission have done flyovers to assess the number of ‘spots’ or areas where trees are infested.

     Randy Chapin, the MFC district forester in this area, said they found no spots in March, but in May they found more than 100. Chabreck said the forest service found more than 250 new spots just a few weeks ago.

     “We usually fly once a month [to check],” he said. “We’re increasing to a two-week interval. Hopefully we may not find any new spots.”

     With timber being such a big industry in the area, it’s very important to pay attention to SPB infestations.

     “They can wipe out your entire timber stand,” Chapin said. “Timber is worth several hundred (dollars) a tree. These bugs will reduce them to only be worth pulpwood.”

     The beetles are so dangerous to trees because they cut off the supply of water and nutrients, effectively killing the tree. The insects lay eggs in the tree, which then hatch and attack surrounding trees.

     Depending on the life stage of the beetle, as many as two or three generations can be born in a year.

     “The bigger the spot gets, the more bugs there’ll be,” Chapin said.

     To find SPB infestations during flyovers, officials look for tree crowns that appear to be fading from green to brown. If they find spots, they’ll either do a ground check, looking for characteristics like a blue stain on the tree or small holes in the bark.

     Both of these signs indicate an infestation. Forestry officials then determine how best to suppress the bugs or they inform the landowners of the infestation.

     “We look at every infestation and the number of infested trees in a particular area and the potential for it to spread,” Chabreck said. “We determine the priority for implementing control measures.”

     Control measures include cutting down the infested trees, as well as a buffer of trees around them and then laying those trees on the ground.

     “Generally the temperature under the bark gets so hot it affects their survival,” Chabreck said.

     Both Chabreck and Chapin said proper timber management wais the best way to combat the problem.

     “They like stressed trees,” Chapin said.

     Trees that don’t have enough room to grow, or are struck by lightning, or are getting old and stagnant are considered ‘stressed.’ Cutting down these trees and just making sure trees have plenty of room can help keep the beetles away.

     “That’s the two primary strategies we use to deal with them,” Chabreck said. “You can’t rid of them, unfortunately.”