N.J. Southern pine beetle outbreak is nation’s worst

By Edward Colimore – Philly.com

N.J. Southern pine beetle outbreak is nation's worstHigh above the Pinelands of South Jersey, the damage is plain to see.

Great swaths of pines have turned brown and begun dropping needles. In aerial photos, they appear like ugly tentacles in the green forest, a sure sign the Southern pine beetle is on the march.

New Jersey has the most severe beetle outbreak in the country, said the nation’s leading expert on the insect, Ron Billings, manager of forest health for the Texas Forest Service, who has surveyed and photographed the damage.

Dendroctonus frontalis devoured 14,000 acres of pines last year and is expected to devastate at least another 14,000 this year, state officials said.

But help is on the way.

The state Department of Environmental Protection this week was awarded a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Forest Service to begin “an integrated approach toward controlling” the beetles, department spokesman Larry Hajna said.

The DEP has been trying to tamp down hot spots where the insects are active, Hajna said. It has cut down trees in Wharton State Forest to disorient the beetles and larvae, and prevent them from spreading.

The extra federal funding, though, will help forestry officials step up efforts through controlled burning and thinning, and through education programs.

Controlled burns have been used to clear undergrowth that competes with the pines for water and nutrients, Hajna said. Now the burns can serve a dual purpose, eliminating not only the undergrowth but the beetles, too.

“This will lead to the regeneration of a healthy forest,” Hajna said. “We’ll place an extra emphasis on areas threatened by the beetles.”

More efforts are needed, though, said Billings, who visited New Jersey last week to monitor the infestation.

“We’re encouraging more active control,” he said. “New Jersey is the focus of [the beetle’s] activity.

“You have to treat the expanding infestations,” he said. “I would recommend a cut-and-remove program for private lands and a cut-and-leave program for public lands.”

Billings, who has studied the Southern pine beetle for 38 years, said the state must make an emergency declaration that streamlines the permitting process so trees can be more quickly felled on public and private lands.

The beetle problem would be under control if the state had taken a more aggressive stance in 2003, said Bob Williams, a certified forester and vice president of forestry operations for Land Dimensions Engineering, a Glassboro firm that manages tens of thousands of private forested acres.


  1. OH, come on NJ is a drop in the bucket compared to the pine beetle invasion of WN and BC. This is correctly the result of preservationist’s belief that ‘protection’ of an area will shield it from all forms of change. What will these people do when they feel the full effects of repeated tornadoes? Let them burn coal.

  2. Ronald Billings says:

    Admittedly, the level of resource losses due to bark beetles in New Jersey is pales in comparison to that in the western U.S. and British Columbia. But, these are two different bark beetle species (Mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) in the West and southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) in New Jersey. So, it is true that in 2011, New Jersey does have the worst southern pine beetle outbreak in the nation. I agree with you that the current New Jersey outbreak is due primarily to an abundance of beetle-prone pine stands (1.1 million acres on the Pinelands National Reserve)that have gone 30 plus years with no forest management (thinning or harvesting) and with very little beetle control. Unlike mountain pine beetle, outbreaks of southern pine beetle can be controlled by treating active infestations early in their development using mechanical methods that require felling trees (cut-and-remove or cut-and-leave). Hopefully, the New Jersey Forest Service and Pinelands Commission will take direct control action before the outbreak really gets out of hand.

  3. Norris Boothe says:

    How does “cut and leave” control SPB? I assume you would have to cut infested, but still green trees before the larvae pupate and emerge. Will the cut trees dry out fast enough to prevent the larvae from becoming adults, emerging and attacking other trees?

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