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3/15/17- Mild Winter has Fueled Beetle Infestation in AL

by Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist

Back in the fall, I wrote an article explaining the biology of the Southern Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) and how the drought last year had created a pine beetle feeding frenzy. Well folks, this year is going to make 2016 look like a cake walk. Due to our very mild winter (on top of the already stressed trees), foresters believe the Southern Pine Beetle will be a major player in the state’s forestry industry production this year.

The worry began back in September and November when landowners were contacting the Forestry commission reporting that whole acre plots of trees were dead. Foresters would inspect the dead pine trees and sure enough, the beetle had destroyed the tree from the inside out with ease, thanks to the extremely fragile conditions that the trees were in. Landowners and foresters hoped that the winter temperatures would keep the beetles at bay for a little while, but that did not happen this year. Tim Albritton, staff forester with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Alabama, states that “normally in the winter you don’t see a lot of dying pines and beetle activity, but we’re seeing that a lot more this year.” Furthermore, the Forestry Commission is still receiving calls reporting beetle damage and has already started flying over suspected beetle outbreaks. The Commission usually does not start making these flights until late spring/summer when the beetles are at their peak. The beetles haven’t stopped since September of 2016 and it is only going to get worse through 2017.

So what is the solution? Edward Loewenstein, a professor at Auburn University, urges all landowners to keep a healthy, thinned out pine plantation. The denser the pine stand, the more overcrowded the trees are which creates stress on the tree and makes them very susceptible to beetle damage. It is also very important to determine what kind of beetle damage you are experiencing, as the forestry method to removing the infestation varies. Smaller tracts of land (40 or 80 acres) are experiencing the most damage because they are usually ignored by the landowner and logging crews, until it’s too late and then  landowners are unhappy about the amount of money that will potentially be left on the ground as they “cut and fell” infested trees. Furthermore, mills just flat out aren’t accepting anymore lumber. Keith Plott with Louisiana-Pacific in Hanceville claims they are already overloaded due to the outbreak last fall and they simply cannot handle any extra lumber.

The Alabama forestry industry is in a state of crisis. Many forestry businesses claim they will “contact their representatives in the legislature to ask for more funding for the Alabama Forestry Commission’s beetle operations.” It is important to educate yourself and other landowners about general forest health and forestry techniques that need to be implemented to keep this from happening in future years. Private landowners own most of the forests in Alabama (87%), therefore spreading the word is going to be an essential part of the solution. The forestry industry in Alabama produced more than $11 billion in 2010, including commercial logging and forest products, according to a report by Auburn University’s Co-Op Extension Service. That is a very expensive meal for beetles!

If you suspect there is beetle damage on your property, contact the Alabama Forestry Commission right now. The first step to this problem is locating all the beetle infestations and wiping them out. If you suspect that you do not have a beetle problem on your land, continue with the forestry methods you are currently using! Keep your pine stands thinned and healthy; don’t wait until the issue gets out of hand. We will all have to share information and help each other out if we are going to survive this beetle epidemic.

 

Visit AL.com to read the entire article on “Pine beetles could devastate Alabama’s $11B forest industry this year”

By: Red Clay

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