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DEC Announces Demonstration Forest Project to Combat Southern Pine Beetle Infestation on Long Island

DEC will soon begin conducting ecological forest operations on Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest to help combat the spread of the invasive Southern Pine Beetle.

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Long Island research project is part of DEC's effort to combat spread of southern pine beetle.

Photo by: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, via Facebook.

Long Island, NY - January 4, 2017 - As part of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) aggressive efforts to combat the spread of the invasive Southern Pine Beetle, DEC will soon begin conducting ecological forest operations on Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, DEC announced today.

"The Southern Pine Beetle poses a threat to Long Island's Pine Barrens and DEC is actively fighting to protect the area from these destructive pests," DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said. "By thinning a portion of this forest, which represents one of DEC's largest land holdings in the Pine Barrens region, we are potentially saving thousands of trees from this invasive insect."

Southern Pine Beetle Management Plan Implementation
The ecological research operation was made possible by a $34,900 grant from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

DEC staff began investigating potential solutions to battle Southern Pine Beetle on its Rocky Point Preserve Property after a small infestation was found on the 6,000-acre Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest in 2015.

The project will be conducted over a 27-acre area. Nine acres will serve as a control, where no treatment is administered. The other 18 acres will be thinned according to silvicultural guidelines. The area will be broken up into three blocks of three-acre sections. Each block will receive different treatments in order to determine their effectiveness. The three treatment options are: control, thinning, and thinning and burning.

The plan, which was developed by DEC and USFS foresters, will selectively remove varying amounts of pitch pine, scarlet, and white oak trees throughout the three-acre blocks. This is intended to give the remaining trees more access to sunlight and nutrients, allowing them to gain strength and better fight off the invading beetle. Each block will be analyzed to determine which block was the most effective in resisting Southern Pine Beetle attacks.

Ecological forest operations are regularly conducted on DEC-managed forests throughout the state by private contractors to achieve different resource objectives, including invasive species management.

Currently, DEC is searching for an eligible timber management company to implement the selective management of trees on the approximately 18-acre parcel in need of thinning. All work by private contractors will be conducted under DEC supervision to ensure that only trees previously marked for harvesting will be taken down.

Work on the project is expected to start in early January 2017.

Past Efforts
Following the discovery of Southern Pine Beetle in October 2014, DEC initiated a rapid response plan in cooperation with the USFS, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the Central Pine Barrens Commission, and Long Island municipalities to further define the extent of the Southern Pine Beetle infestation and to implement scientifically based management strategies to combat this forest pest.

The accepted and most effective method of minimizing the spread of Southern Pine Beetle includes cutting infested trees and thinning surrounding forested areas. Thinned forests enable individual trees to better defend themselves against beetle attacks. Left untreated, Southern Pine Beetle can move swiftly to nearby forested areas. As part of the response plan, several agencies began tree-cutting operations in order to reduce additional damage to the region's unique Pine Barrens habitat.

Since that time, DEC's forestry experts and partners have initiated properly planned management activities using the best available science at several key sites including Henrys Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest/Suffolk County's Munn's Pond County Park, cutting nearly 2,500 infected pine trees to suppress the infestation, as well as implementing similar management activities at Hubbard County Park, Munn's Pond County Park, and the Bellows Pond area. These initial operations were largely successful, with only limited spread of the insect beyond the boundaries of the cut areas. However, ongoing monitoring by DEC and partners has identified additional forested areas threatened by the beetle and in need of management.

Southern Pine Beetle Background
The Southern Pine Beetle, a bark beetle native to the southern United States, has steadily expanded its range north and west, possibly due to climate change. It is considered one of the most destructive forest pests in the United States and attacks all species of pine including pitch pine, the predominant species found in the Long Island Pine Barrens. Prior to its discovery on Long Island, it had reached as far north as New Jersey, devastating nearly 50,000 acres of Pine Barrens in that state. An estimated 1,000 new acres of pine forests in New Jersey have been destroyed each year by the beetle since it was found in that state in 2001.

Adult beetles bore into the bark of trees laying eggs in S-shaped tunnels just beneath the bark. This disrupts the flow of nutrients, killing the tree in typically two to four months. Insecticides have been shown to be mostly ineffective against Southern Pine Beetle and are a threat to the sole source drinking water aquifer.

What You Can Do
DEC urges the public to report any recently dead pine they encounter in the Long Island area, especially if there are several trees grouped together. Sightings should be reported to the Forest Health Diagnostic Lab through the toll-free information line, 1-866-640-0652 or by email. If possible, reports via email should include photos of the trees and close-ups of any damage. An added item in the photo for scale, such as a penny, aids with identification.

A Southern Pine Beetle fact sheet with photos and information related to the recent areas of discovery are available on DEC's website.