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Southern Pine Beetle

Southern pine beetle
Southern pine beetle

What is Southern Pine Beetle (SPB)?

Southern pine beetle, or SPB, is a bark beetle that infests pine trees. The beetle is small, only 2-4 mm in length (about the size of a grain of rice) and is red-brown to black in color.

View the Southern Pine Beetle Fact Sheet (PDF) (392 KB)

What trees are affected?

All pine trees are susceptible, including pitch pine, white pine, and red pine. In addition to pines, hemlocks and spruce may also be affected in highly infested areas. No hardwood tree species are affected.

Where is SPB located?

Infested trees in New York were found in October, 2014 in Suffolk County on Long Island. The beetles most likely colonized Long Island from the New Jersey Pinelands where it has been very abundant in recent years. This is the first recorded find of SPB in trees in New York State.

SPB is widespread throughout Suffolk County, but the largest infestations are located in Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Connetquot River State Park, Hubbard County Park, and Henry's Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest.

SPB has also been found in traps in Bear Mountain State Park in Orange and Rockland Counties, Schunnemunk State Park in Orange County, Roosa Gap State Forest in Sullivan County, and in Minnewaska State Park in Ulster County.

Where does it come from?

pine beetle galleries/tunnels under the bark
Tunnels (galleries) left by adult beetles

SPB is native to the southeastern United States but has been expanding its range up the Eastern Seaboard in recent years. Warming of extreme winter temperatures has most likely contributed to this expansion.

What does it do to trees?

The adult beetle enters the tree through crevices in the bark and then creates S-shaped tunnels in the cambium tissue, just beneath the bark. This disrupts the flow of nutrients, killing the tree in typically 2-4 months. Most trees resist the initial attacks by secreting resin that can "pitch out" some adults and slow the entry of others, but trees almost always die as their defenses are overwhelmed by thousands of attacking beetles.

SPB has always been the most destructive pest of southern pine forests. From 1999-2002, an outbreak of the beetle in the southeastern U.S. resulted in more than one billion dollars in loss for the timber industry, according to the U.S. Forest Service. SPB populations naturally rise and fall. The beetle can persist for years at very low numbers, sometimes going unnoticed. At other times, however, the population can explode, rapidly killing pine trees across the landscape, as is currently occurring on Long Island. This switch between high and low population numbers is influenced by the availability of dense pine stands, the number of natural enemies, the types of fungus present, tree defenses, and changes in climate.

What are the signs of an infestation?

  • Pitch tubes, or popcorn-shaped clumps of resin on the exterior of the bark
  • Shotgun patterned holes on the exterior of the bark
  • S-shaped tunnels under the bark
  • Pine trees that have recently died, characterized by reddish-brown needles

What ecosystems have been the most affected?

southern pine beetle entering a pitch tube
Pine beetle entering a pitch tube

In New York, pitch pines have been attacked by SPB more than any other tree species. The majority of the pitch pines killed by SPB have been in the Long Island Central Pine Barrens, an ecosystem which contains a variety of habitats that support many rare and unique species. Although no infested trees have been located near the trap catches further north, rare communities in Minnewaska State Park and the Albany Pine Barrens Preserve, where pitch pine is also an important species, will be closely monitored.

History and Partnership of Pine Barrens Protection

In 1993, DEC helped to create the original Pine Barrens Commission and has worked with the Commission, Suffolk County and the East End Towns to acquire lands for the preservation and conservation of the Long Island Pine Barrens. The safeguarding of the Pine Barrens is vital for water quality protection, wildlife habitat, and the protection of endangered species. The conservation of this landscape also has proven human health benefits by providing recreational opportunities and a connection with nature. DEC continues to be heavily invested in the protection of the Pine Barrens and is working with cooperating state, federal, and local agencies to determine the most effective strategies to address the threat of SPB.

Why has SPB been more of a problem in the Long Island Central Pine Barrens than in many southern pine forests?

Pine Barren ecosystems are naturally adapted to and dependent on fire and are characterized by scattered pitch pine trees with dense shrub layers. In natural or properly managed conditions, fires increase the resiliency of pitch pines to SPB and other pests by naturally thinning tree stands which reduces the number and density of more competitive tree species such as oaks. Fires reduce competition between trees, making individual trees healthier. Smoke and thinning from fires also slow SPB infestations by disrupting the ability of beetles to communicate and organize infestations on trees using pheromones. In the southeastern United States, SPB is a natural part of pitch pine stands and only becomes problematic when there is an absence of fire or other management to thin the total density and maintain the pitch pine stands, as is the case for the Long Island Central Pine Barrens.

What is being done?

SPB has existed for many years in other regions of the country, and information sharing has been very valuable in creating a plan to address this pest and minimize its impacts on our forests. DEC has reached out to experts including state, federal, and local agencies with SPB experience, as well as academic experts to apply the best and most up to date science to determine priorities for management activities.

Eradication of this pest is not feasible because it has become widespread, moves quickly, and is present in neighboring states. As a result, forest health management conducted by the State is focused on protecting large forested blocks and unique habitats, such as the Core Preservation Area of the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Preserve. Management efforts include aerial and ground surveys, tree inventories, cutting infested trees, and thinning uninfested trees. So far, more than 10,000 trees have been cut in the Core Preservation Area in suppression efforts to slow the spread of SPB and protect surrounding trees.

Areas in the Hudson River Valley will continue to be monitored for early detection of SPB with traps, aerial surveys, and ground surveys. For more information, please refer to the SPB Management Plan (PDF, 1.5 MB), developed in partnership with experts from the U.S. Forest Service and academia. For more information on what the DEC accomplished to fight SPB from 2014-2015, please refer to the NYS Southern Pine Beetle Response 2014-2015 Annual Report (PDF, 2 MB).

Number of trees cut by sawyer crews for SPB spot suppression on DEC and Suffolk County lands 2/9/15 to 10/1/16
Sawyer Crew Henry's
David A.
DEC Forest Health 482 408 224 3,065 70 35 17 132
DEC Region 1 2,720
Northeastern Forest Fire Compact 2,373 633
Total Trees Cut: 10,159 3,202 2,781 857 3,065 70 35 17 132

Cooperating agencies include: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation; US Forest Service; US Fish and Wildlife Service; NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; Suffolk County Parks; and the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission, among others.

Why do trees need to be cut if the goal is not eradication?

Infested pitch pine cut as part of winter suppression efforts
Infested pine cut as part of winter suppression efforts

The major focus of DEC efforts has been to suppress the infestation by cutting down infested trees using specific techniques during different seasons. Cutting infested trees in early winter can reduce the SPB population by killing the brood overwintering within the tree. Additional cuts made to the tree after it is on the ground causes the bark to loosen, exposing the overwintering beetles to cold temperatures and predators over time (see image).

During the summer months when SPB is expanding, cutting infested trees disrupts the beetles' ability to communicate using pheromones making it more difficult for beetles to find each other and attack trees in large numbers. Cutting these trees also kills some of the brood within the tree as the beetle larvae are exposed to high temperatures from increased sun exposure, and predators.

Thinning uninfested trees is beneficial because increasing the distance between the trees disrupts the beetles' ability to communicate as they spread out more, searching for trees to attack. Thinning also accomplishes artificially what fire would have done naturally by reducing competition among trees creating a healthier stand that is better able to fend off attack by SPB and other pests. All types of trees and shrubs must be thinned in order to ensure every species, including the pines, have the best chance of regenerating. Without a diverse approach to thinning, pitch pines will be fighting an uphill battle against both attack by SPB and an overabundance of competing trees and shrubs.

Preventative Forest Thinning as a Tool to Slow Southern Pine Beetle Fact Sheet (PDF, 700 KB)

Preventative Thinning at Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest Scientific Report (PDF, 1.7 MB)

untreated area showing 10 times larger infested area in 1 year suppression cutting showed very little expansion in 1 year

Why are the Pine Barrens a priority?

Infested trees have only been found on Long Island, so management efforts to control SPB have been focused there. The Central Pine Barrens Preserve is ecologically and economically important to Long Island. The Core Preservation Area of the Central Pine Barrens is located above Long Island's sole-source aquifer, or groundwater, protecting Suffolk County's only supply of clean drinking water. The Pine Barrens also provide important unique, contiguous habitat for rare and endangered plants and animals as well as recreational and economic benefits to Long Island and the state as a whole.

Pine barren ecosystems contain unique fire-adapted vegetation and wildlife. Many of these unique species will benefit from forest health management in the Central Pine Barrens. Plant species such as little-leaf tick-trefoil, three-ribbed spikerush, showy aster, slender pinweed, sandplain wild flax, and Carey's smartweed will directly benefit from the thinning as competition for sunlight will be reduced. The coastal barrens buckmoth and frosted elfin will benefit from the increase in the amount of their hosts (scrub oak, and wild blue lupine and wild indigo, respectively) that will result from the reduced competition from other species. The eastern spadefoot toad will benefit from the increase in both quantity and quality of Pine Barrens habitat from continued management.

Is there funding for tree removal on private property?

There are currently no state or federal funds available to provide financial assistance to private homeowners for the removal of individual trees attacked or killed by SPB. Unlike Asian longhorned beetle, SPB is not a federally regulated invasive species. State and federal agencies will remove Asian longhorned beetle infested trees from private property in order to achieve eradication of this pest. There is no effort to eradicate SPB, however, because it is much more widespread and is native to the United States, making reintroduction highly likely.

Private forest landowners may contact the Forest Stewardship Program which offers technical assistance to develop a forest stewardship plan.
Woodland owners who have a forest stewardship plan may seek technical and financial assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

Communities with municipal trees affected by SPB may apply for Urban and Community Forestry Grants.

What can I do?

hotline number 1-866-640-0652

If you have dead pine trees, consider risk and liability. Remove standing dead trees if they have the potential to fall on people, structures, roads, or utility lines. Dead trees no longer have living SPB in them so they can be left standing if they do not pose a threat.

If you have living infested trees, surrounding uninfested trees are at risk. To keep SPB from spreading, remove and dispose of infested pines. Infested trees should not be cut and moved to new areas during the summer unless they will immediately be destroyed.

If you have uninfested trees, you may choose to protect them with preventive insecticides. Recommendations can be obtained by contacting Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County. Information for Homeowners (PDF, 850 KB) (article from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County) Also, consider contacting a certified arborist for a consultation.

Report recently dead pine trees with the infestation signs listed above to the DEC Forest Health Information Line by calling toll-free 1-866-640-0652 or emailing Sending pictures of suspect pine trees with something included for scale, such as a penny, will help in identifying potential problems.

SPB Documents

Annual Report Executive Summary

To help effectively manage the response to SPB in New York State, DEC has established an incident command structure. An incident command structure allows DEC to communicate rapidly with partner agencies and respond to SPB efficiently. To detect and track SPB in Long Island from 2014-2015, DEC used multiple aerial surveys to map thousands of acres of potentially infested trees. Early detection traps in Bear Mountain State Park and Minnewaska State Park in the Hudson River Valley captured SPB, showing that SPB has also moved further north into NY. Using aerial survey maps, ground surveyors verified and delimited SPB infestations on 297 acres of Long Island, however found no SPB-infested trees in the Hudson River Valley. Ground surveyors marked about 6,500 trees for sawyers to cut during fall spot suppression. Additional infested trees were later identified and a total of 7,563 infested trees were cut by DEC and the Northeastern Forest Fire Compact crews during the 2015 suppression efforts. DEC created preventative thinning stand prescriptions for uninfested trees in forest stands in Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, which will go out to bid in 2016. DEC scientific research has examined SPB-suppressed stand characteristics, stand susceptibility, expansion rate, and winter temperatures and mortality to help inform management decisions.

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