Foresters working to contain ‘once in a career’ Southern Pine Beetle infestation

Southern Pine Beetle outbreak
Published: Aug. 1, 2022 at 7:08 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - The Big Bend’s treasured pine forests are under attack.

For the first time in recent memory, the Southern Pine Beetle is on the hunt, killing acres of pine trees, according to foresters working to push back.

Senior Forester Emily Martin works to protect the Wakulla State Forest. Earlier this year, she took part in annual checks of the canopy from the skies. She immediately realized something was wrong.

In the middle of lush green, she saw splotches of red.

“Usually we don’t find any, but this year has been a special case,” she said. “This year, it’s kind of like the perfect storm, you’re just seeing it all at once.”

Martin said there have been at least thirty confirmed or suspected outbreaks across Wakulla and Franklin Counties. The beetle, as small as a pinpoint, is popping up on State lands, as well as in trees at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Apalachicola National Forest.

“For foresters in this field, this may be something they deal with once in their careers - if that,” Deputy District Ranger for the National Forest John Dunlap said.

The beetle is native to Florida, but usually feeds on dead or dying trees in small numbers. Dunlap said agency experts cite a number of possible factors as to why this year the beetles are attacking healthy trees.

“There’s not really great clarity on what causes it to become an outbreak,” Dunlap said.

In the months following the discovery, a multi-agency effort is already producing results. Dunlap said the best method to combat the infestation is to create a buffer zone by chopping down infected trees and surrounding areas, and that doing it quickly is key to avoid any long lasting impacts.

The agencies are also working with a handful of private landowners in the area who have seen the infestation spill into their land.

Martin said it can require a lot of manpower to deal with the infestations.

In the meantime, the Florida Forest Service and partner agencies are hiring loggers to create buffers to beat the beetle.

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