Bugs, not cold temperatures, a concern for the trees

Published 3:53 pm Monday, October 30, 2023

LOYD STAR — Lincoln County is under an exceptional drought and has received .23 inches of rain for the entire month of October. The stress from a lack of rain has made trees vulnerable to bugs.

Lincoln County Forester Steven Williams said he is more concerned about bugs than the freezing temperatures forecasted for Wednesday. Cold weather will slow the bugs down a little bit but as soon as it warms up again they will become more active and killing trees.

Williams said he doesn’t expect damage from a freeze. Most of the hardwood leaves don’t have much moisture and are starting to cast off leaves anyway. Pine trees aren’t usually bothered by freezing temperatures due to the resin in them.

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“We have lost a lot of hardwoods. They may come back and may not. It just depends on if they dropped their leaves off early. It might make it,” Williams said. “If you see brown pine needles it is bugs. I’m seeing Ips Engraver beetles and I’ve seen a few Southern Pine Beetle. They kill the tree. They will hit the top and work down it and lay eggs. By the time the eggs pupate and hatch, the tree will be dry and dead and they will keep on working down.”

The drought conditions are causing the bug problem. Trees are stressed and there is no water. Bugs are already here but trees have less resources to defend itself right now. Williams said if the trees do not get enough rain soon then the bugs will keep on eating up the trees.

It is too late this year for land owners, habitat managers or foresters to fight against the bugs. The only recourse to prevent bugs in trees is to thin timber whether it be in your yard or a pine plantation.  Stressors such as prescribed fire, cutting roots or damage to the bark of trees could make things worse.

“Keep the trees where they are actively growing. It is the only things we can do,” Williams said. “Stressors worsens the bug problem. They will attack the trees if you don’t do anything. Drought has magnified the bug problem.”

Pine trees with red needles are not coming back. Mills are not taking bug timber either, Williams said. He added land owners or timber stand managers can use a chainsaw to cut down the trees already red and get them on the ground before the bugs hatch. He added trees with fading yellowish needles are another target for removal before the bugs can hatch.

Other things indicative of a bug infestation on a tree include pitch tubes or fine brown and white boring dust. Removal of bug infested trees will be needed.

“We haven’t seen anything yet. What about the spring when these eggs hatch,” Williams said. “Cool weather will slow the bugs but it won’t stop them.”