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For Release: Monday, September 10, 2018

DEC Announces Ecological Services Project to Combat Southern Pine Beetle Infestation on Long Island

As part of New York State's ongoing, aggressive efforts to combat the spread of the invasive Southern Pine Beetle on Long Island, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has begun conducting ecological forest operations on Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos announced today. These operations include thinning forest stands in designated areas to increase the health of the forest and make it more resistant to this invasive pest.

Commissioner Seggos said, "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. 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 beetle."

Southern Pine Beetle Management Plan Implementation

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

The project will be conducted over a 72.5-acre area. The goal is to protect the Pine Barrens, a globally rare ecosystem, by removing smaller trees in poor health to favor stronger native pitch pine.

In addition to selective thinning, DEC plans to implement prescribed burning in Rocky Point's Pine Barrens Demonstration Forest this fall, which will provide additional protection against the southern pine beetle by further improving the forest's health. With the support of Environmental Protection Funds, DEC and the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission are partnering to create a $1.25 million, 5-year prescribed fire program that will support additional prescribed burning and forest health efforts on Long Island.

The plan will selectively remove varying amounts of pitch pine, scarlet, and white oak trees throughout the 72.5 acres. This selective thinning will give the remaining trees more access to sunlight and nutrients, allowing the health of these trees to improve and better fight off the invading beetle.

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.

Following the bidding process, DEC awarded the contract to implement ecological services by the selective management of trees on the acreage in need of thinning. All work will be completed by Martin Logging LLC, and will be conducted under DEC supervision to ensure that only trees previously marked for harvesting will be removed. Funds have been designated for the ecological research operation through the Environmental Protection Fund.

Work on the project began September 10, 2018.

Past Efforts

Following the discovery of Southern Pine Beetle in October 2014, DEC initiated a rapid response plan in cooperation with the U.S. Forest Service, 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 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 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 2,800 infected pine trees to suppress the infestation, as well as implementing similar management activities at Hubbard 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. To date, more than 18,000 infested trees have been cut for these suppression efforts. 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

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 Southern Pine Beetle in them and can be left standing if they do not pose a threat.

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