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National forests brace for next pine beetle onslaught

By JACK WEATHERLY

Early signs are that national forests in Mississippi will face a second consecutive year of a severe Southern pine beetle outbreak, threatening to damage tens of thousands of acres, according to the National Forest Service.

The national forests were hit harder last year than private stands. Approximately 23,000 acres were affected in the national forests, according to Jim Meeker, entomologist with the federal service. There are 1.2 million acres total in all six forests, including lakes, streams and open land.

The outbreak in 2017 was the worst since 1995 on federal and private lands, Meeker said in an interview. The infestations were primarily in the national forests.

Forest Service scientists found large numbers of the beetles in the the three national forests of central and southwest Mississippi — Homochitto, Tombigbee and Bienville. There are six national forests in the state.

“In the next few weeks, after we conduct additional aerial surveys, we expect to have a clearer picture of the overall level of the outbreak, but it doesn’t look good,” Jim Meeker, an entomologist with the Forest Service, said.

Last year, the Forest Service found nearly 4,000 spots of infestation by the beetles on the Homochitto, Bienville, Tombigbee, and Holly Springs forests. A native insect, the beetle is the most destructive forest pest in the South, both in economic and ecological impacts.

Forest workers are cutting infested trees and creating buffer zones. “Our priorities are to stop the bugs from spreading to private forest lands and red-cockaded woodpecker clusters,” said Carl Petrick, acting forest supervisor for the National Forests in Mississippi. The red-cockaded woodpecker is an endangered species.

To date, the Forest Service has had 16 sales and sold 14 million cubic feet of timber. Cut and remove is the most effective measure to suppress the spread of the beetles.

Of the 23,000 acres of pines damaged in the national forests last year, 5,200 acres of trees were cut and left and 2,500 acres were cut and removed, Meeker said.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission, meantime, completes flyovers twice a year to monitor forest health issues.

A map provided by the commission shows 169 suspected infestation spots thus far this year. The commission confirmed about 250 last year as of mid-August.

The commission has a Southern pine beetle cost-sharing prevention program. 

Landowners interested in the program should contact their area forester at www.mfc.ms.gov/offices.

Healthy stands of timber that have been properly thinned and managed are less susceptible to . . . beetle damage,” said Todd Matthews, urban forestry and forest health coordinator for the commission.

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About Ross Reily

Ross Reily is editor of the Mississippi Business Journal. He is a husband to an amazing wife, dad to 3 crazy kids and 2 dogs. He is also a fan of the Delta State Fighting Okra and the Boston Red Sox.

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