Creeping Death



From Garden State EnviroNews


Date: 021114


By Jack Kaskey, Staff Writer, (609) 272-7213,
Press of Atlantic City, November 14, 2002

A tiny beetle first discovered in the state less than a year ago
already has attacked 2,500 acres of forest at hundreds of locations
across southern New Jersey, killing an estimated half-million pine
trees and threatening many more, state foresters say.

The southern pine beetle is native to the Southeast, where it has
destroyed millions of acres of forest. It has been documented
occasionally in Delaware and southern Pennsylvania, but never before
in New Jersey.

The southern pine beetle has succeeded in gaining a foothold north of
its native range because New Jersey has been abnormally warm in recent
years and because a prolonged drought has weakened trees, said Joseph
Battersby, a Mays Landing-based forester with the New Jersey Forest

The only thing likely to kill the beetles in New Jersey is an
extended cold snap, ideally three days of zero-degree temperatures, he

"That's definitely the key here," Battersby said Wednesday.

The period from September 2001 to August 2002 tied the record for the
warmest 12-month period in New Jersey history, with an average
temperature 3 degrees warmer than normal, according to state
Climatologist Dave Robinson. That corresponds with the southern pine
beetle's discovery in Cumberland County in December and its dramatic
population increase.

An aerial survey this summer of 1.3 million acres in eight southern
counties, as well as ground surveys, identified 300 infestation areas
ranging from less than an acre to 250 acres, Battersby said.

In total, the southern pine beetle has infested 2,500 acres and
killed about 500,000 trees, mostly in northern Cape May County,
western Atlantic County and eastern Cumberland County.

Battersby said the problem is worse than expected.

"We didn't think it would get to this point," he said. "It's gone
from zero to 2,500 acres in a year. A similar percentage increase next
summer would be a real problem."

Battersby said the beetles attack all of New Jersey's native pine
species, but they seem to prefer pines growing in pitch pine lowlands,
distinct ecosystems that border swamps and streams.

No one is sure how the southern pine beetle got here. It could have
been blown here or carried in lumber, Battersby said. Perhaps it was
always here in low numbers, and conditions now are ripe for its
explosive growth, he said.

"Everybody has a different theory," Battersby said. "Nobody really

What foresters do know is that the beetles pose a double threat to
New Jersey. They threaten to wipe out vast stretches of forest in the
Pine Barrens, and the dead and dying trees dramatically raise the
danger of fire, Battersby said.

As the dying trees shed their needles and branches, the layer of
flammable material on the forest floor, called duff, has almost
doubled in one year, he said.

The dead trees standing in the midst of the thick duff are a serious
fire hazard. Some of those areas are precariously close to populated
areas, including Cape May Court House, Dennisville, Woodbine and
Seaville, he said.

The largest wilderness infestation is at Peaslee Wildlife Management
Area in Cape May County, where the beetles have killed 250 acres of
trees in a 6.5-mile circumference.

Other large infestations include 130 acres and 123 acres in
Belleplain State Forest, 119 acres in Lester G. MacNamara Wildlife
Management Area, 160 acres of private land southwest of Seaville, and
145 acres at Bear Swamp Natural Area.

Unlike another recently discovered New Jersey tree eater, the Asian
longhorn beetle, the southern pine beetle is native to North America
with natural enemies. However, the pine beetle's main predator, the
checkered beetle, is vastly outnumbered in New Jersey, Battersby said.

The U.S. Forest Service has pledged to help New Jersey combat the
pine beetle invasion, but it is not yet clear how much financial aid
is coming, state foresters said.

The New Jersey Forest Service soon will ask the Pinelands Commission
for expedited approval to implement control measures before the
spring, when the insects' hibernation ends and a new generation
emerges, Battersby said. Foresters want permission to cut and chip
trees on site, permission to cut and leave them on site, and
permission to rehabilitate cut sites with pine seedlings. No
pesticides will be sprayed, he said.

Without rehabilitation, blueberry and greenbriar will take over the
sites, followed by sweet gum, red maple and perhaps oak.

Among the priority areas the Forest Service hopes to control are the
20 northern most infested sites, which stretch roughly from Estell
Manor to Vineland.

"We are thinking about making a line of defense there, just try to
hold that line as much as we can," Battersby said.

Other priority sites to be controlled are infestations at
campgrounds, such as Belleplain, and historical tree plantings, some
that date to World War II.

Infestations can be identified by the BB-sized holes that adult
beetles make when leaving a dead tree, or by the gummy sap that oozes
from trees trying to ward off invasion.

The beetle spreads in the spring, when newly hatched pioneer beetles
fly as far as two miles in search of a weakened pine tree, often one
struck by lightning. The bugs burrow through the tree's bark, and then
dig S-shaped channels between the bark and the wood where they lay
their eggs.

Although only an eighth-inch long - half the size of a grain of
rice - the southern pine beetle emits a pheromone to attract thousands
of others to its victim. The bugs carry a blue-stain fungus that clogs
the tree's vascular systems, and the labyrinth of beetle tunnels
ultimately girdles the tree.

Once a population is established in a single tree, the bugs move to
adjacent, healthy trees, spreading through a pine forest as fast as 50
feet a day, and completely killing swaths as large as 1,000 acres.

The dead trees remain standing, their needles turning from green to
yellow to brown in four months, creating potential for fires.


Site Administrator
Sep 17, 2002

I hate cold weather, but I am hoping for at least 3 days of zero degree temperatures this winter.

Thanks for the article.



I'm not crazy about extreme cold either , Guy -- just cold enough occasionally for a little snow -- but it would be good if it we got a cold snap cold and long enough to kill those pesky Southern Bark Beetles.

I don't remember this post before. Good information, Renee.

I was personally involved with efforts to combat the Gypsy Moth problem in Pennsylvania, which killed alot of trees, mainly oak. I went into the woods and counted the amount of Gypsy Moth larva in certain areas and filled in a report. The state used this data to determine if and if and where the larva would be sprayed with a bacterialogical agent, BT, it was called. I forget the exact scientific name of the agent. I also remember Wooly something or other threatening evergreen trees in Pennsylvania. Both problems were brought under control. When I worked for PA State Parks, I looked over reports where BT was sprayed for Gypsy Moth over the years and found that less and less acreage in the park where I worked needed to be sprayed.

I did an engine search, and found this U.S. Dept. of Forestry site about the Southern Bark Beetle. And guess what I came across on this site? A little blurb about tree thinning as a long-term way to combat the Southern Bark Beetle.



Date: 021214

By Kirk Moore, Staff Writer, Asbury Park Press, 12/14/02

Boosted by mild winters and summer droughts, an infestation of tree-
killing southern pine beetles has exploded in the Pinelands, and
foresters and state officials are beginning plans for cutting trees on
some hot spots in a bid to contain the insects.

"We've got infestations as far north as Jackson," said John Battersby
of the state Forest Service, who has been tracking the southern pine
beetle since it erupted in fall 2001.

For now, the thickest beetle concentrations are still in Cape May,
Cumberland and Atlantic counties, but "if it gets into the high Pine
Barrens, there's no telling how that forest will react," he said.

"This is a developing disaster for our forests," Joseph Kowalski told
fellow members of the state Pinelands Commission at the panel's
monthly meeting yesterday in Pemberton Township.

Kowalski said the Forest Service wants to enter an agreement with the
Pinelands Commission to allow emergency action at 11 sites. The U.S.
Forest Service has offered help and cost-sharing to control the
beetles and replace attacked trees that must be cut, Battersby said.

"This is not just a New Jersey problem. This has been tremendous
problem in the South," Kowalski said. "The South has come to the
conclusion that you can only deal with this by brute force."

From an original outbreak in Cumberland County, the beetles had
migrated as far north as Byrne State Forest on the Burlington-Ocean
County line by last May. Now, foresters have identified about 300
infested sites, Battersby said.

But out of 1.2 million acres covered in aerial surveys, the beetles
have invaded about 2,500 acres. Foresters hope targeted attacks to
head off key beetle advances can keep the problem in check, Battersby

Chemical spraying is not an option, because it would require spraying
the trunk of each and every pine tree, Battersby said. While it will
be necessary to cut trees, Battersby said foresters will apply
different tactics and methods at each of the 11 sites, which have been
chosen to protect high-value areas such as state campgrounds and
forest plantations that date from forest restoration efforts of the
1920s and '30s.

The acreage to be treated and the methods have to be determined by
the Pinelands Commission, in consultation with foresters and
scientists. Methods used in other states have included a "cut and
leave" technique, in which infested trees and their neighbors are cut
and left on the ground, disrupting the beetles' advance through the

The southern pine beetle is tiny, just about one-eighth of an inch
long. But pine trees die under mass attacks from the insects, which
burrow into the tree bark and disrupt the flow of moisture and
nutrients, according to experts.

The green needles of stricken pine trees turn light green, then
yellow, and finally brown, Battersby said. Some infestations, like 60
acres near homes in Mays Landing, pose a serious fire hazard too
because mats of dried needles around the dead, dry trees "are a fuel
ladder into the tops of the trees," he said.

Attacks are triggered when female beetles drill into a tree and
release pheromones, an attractant to male beetles which then swarm to
the tree. The beetles appear to reproduce three, perhaps four times a
year in New Jersey, Battersby said, which is a factor in their rapid
advance through a forest.

Foresters liken the spread of beetles to a slow-motion forest fire,
with clearly visible "heads" that mark the point of advance. One idea
in the emerging control strategy is to intercept the beetles and fell
the first trees they attack, cutting off the advance.

"Sometimes a head is moving toward a hardwood swamp, which is a
natural barrier. So there's no need to treat that," Battersby said.
Many small infestations will most likely burn themselves out when the
beetles run into stands of oak and other tree species that will not
support them, he said.

The beetles are a perennial problem in states from Tennessee to
Florida, and annual timber losses have been as high as $300 million a
year, according to the U.S. Forest Service. State foresters think the
insects got a foothold here due to drought conditions that stressed
trees, combined with mild winters that helped the pests survive.

Several days of extreme cold weather may help, but latest long-term
forecasts tie the El Nino warm-water trend in the eastern Pacific
Ocean to higher than average winter temperatures, albeit with more
rain and snow than usual.

"If we got a cold winter it wouldn't kill all the beetles, but it
would knock them back," Battersby said.

* * *

Kirk Moore: (732) 557-5728
Copyright (c) 1997-2002 IN Jersey.