It was only a matter of time. The highly destructive Southern Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) has found its way into the Quogue Wildlife Refuge. Having already killed tens of thousands of trees in the Long Island Pine Barrens in the past ten years, the beetles, each the size of a grain of rice, are now ravaging the southwest side of the refuge and spreading rapidly.
Southern Pine Beetle (SPB)
Pine beetles burrow under the bark of a tree, and the tree oozes sap in an effort to push them out. Dried globs of sap, or “popcorn,” visible up and down the pine are a sign of infestation. A healthy pine can survive a few beetles, but in sufficient numbers they will create a network of galleries that interrupt the host’s circulatory system. The needles die, and the beetles can kill a tree in a couple of weeks. In densely-packed forests, the beetles spread rapidly to other trees.
Fighting the beetle isn’t easy. The preferred method involves felling diseased trees, plus a buffer of healthy ones surrounding them, sectioning the trunks and leaving them in place. Removal is expensive and impractical. Once the trees are horizontal on the ground, the beetles do not spread, especially if the cutting is done in cold weather.
What results, however, is an ugly landscape, at least for the short term. The downed trees will add to the forest’s fuel load, increasing the chance of fires. But change will come. The forest understory will receive more sunlight under a thinned or missing canopy. Grasses, fire sedge, berry bushes and seedlings of pine, tree oaks and scrub oak will take root. We will witness a succession of growth, much like what happened after the Pine Barrens wildfires of 1995 and 2012, until a mature forest is reborn years later.
Post SPB at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge
Southern Pine Beetle will likely always be with us, but our hope is that, like a virus, the initial onslaught will give way to a more manageable stage.
Meanwhile, Quogue Wildlife Refuge is gearing up for our fight against Southern Pine Beetle. As we are not public land, we will shoulder a hefty financial burden. First, we will cut “hazard trees,” those which might fall on trails or buildings, then diseased trees and others near them. Already dead pines farther back in the woods can remain.
So be prepared in the year to come to have your esthetic senses rocked when you visit us. Nevertheless, keep visiting! We may have occasional, temporary trail closures, and the refuge may take on a very different appearance is some places, but it will be fascinating to watch our forest regenerate.
by Tom Casey, Quogue Wildlife Refuge Board President
Click here to view a 22 minute video ‘A Story About a Beetle’ or watch below!