Across Long Island, a Race to Keep Up with the Southern Pine Beetle

The southern pine beetle has ripped across Long Island and is now a major threat to the Pine Barrens.

The Suffolk County Parks Department received three grants totaling $225,000 to tackle the problem in January 2017, but the threat continues to spread, officials said during a press conference at Hubbard County Park in Flanders. More than 20,000 trees have died as a result of the beetle across the county, officials said.

Suffolk County Parks partnered with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning and Policy Commission and the Long Island Pine Barren Society to try to stop the hazardous beetles from spreading.

“The beetle has quickly spread through the county and is really killing all of our parklands and pine trees,” said Philip Berdolt, commissioner of Suffolk County Parks.

The southern pine beetle has caused mortality of thousands of pitch pine trees in Hubbard, Sears Bellows, Munn’s Pond, Southaven, and Lakeland County Parks since they were first introduced to Suffolk County in 2014. The first infestation was discovered in Hubbard County Park.

Officials stood before hundreds of fallen trees near Black Duck Lodge Thursday afternoon, demonstrating the full extent of the beetle’s plague.

“Within Hubbard, Sears Bellows and Munn’s County Park alone, over 10,000 trees have been infected and felled,” Mr. Berdolt said. “In Southaven County park, 6,000 trees [were felled] and in Lakeland County Park in Islandia, every single pine tree there is gone.”

Mr. Berdolt said he has about eight staff members working on the problem, among other responsibilities, since it became a focal point in 2014.

“It’s tough trying to get ahead of them, so the grant is really helpful,” he added.

Losing pine trees poses threats of forest fires because the parks department can’t remove all the trees.

“The pine barrens also provide many human and ecosystem services like natural filtration for Long Island’s aquifer, protection for homes against winds and storms, and habitat for endangered species,” said Molly Hassett, Southern Pine Beetle Incident Commander for the DEC.

The beetles enter the pitch pines to get to the sap and lay eggs. Efforts to stop the spread of the beetle include cutting down infected trees to cut off their food supply and stop the larvae from maturing, consequently preventing them from moving deeper into the barrens.

The grant pays for labor, chainsaw training, equipment and hiring outside contractors to help with the immense workload.

Pine cones from felled trees were brought to the Saratoga Tree Nursery to harvest seeds and produce young pine trees to replant where others have died. There were 350 saplings were planted Thursday, with plans of thousands more across the county in efforts to keep pitch pines on Long Island.

“The best thing is just to try to suppress the area as much as we can,” Mr. Berdolt said. “We’re not going to eradicate it completely.”

By Rachel Siford, Riverhead News Review

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