COLD, WET WEATHER SPELLS TROUBLE FOR PINE BEETLES
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A cold, wet winter may have been just what the doctor ordered to help knock out infestations of Southern pine beetles throughout Alabama forests.
Three years ago, the tiny pests reached near epidemic rates and caused an estimated $113 million in damage to Alabama pine trees. With thinning used as the main treatment for eradicating and controlling the beetles, it forced more timber into a market already saturated by mandated thinning of timber in USDA's Conservation Reserve Program.
"The combination of the beetle problem and the mandated thinning, with an increase in overseas competition in the pulp industry resulted in a glut of pine pulpwood on the market," said Steve Guy, director of the Federation's Forestry Division.
"The weather this past winter should have decreased beetle activity substantially, plus additional moisture from the rain will help relieve stress on the trees. Beetles are more likely to attack trees that are stressed," he said.
The wet weather also has reduced accessibility to some tracts of timber for harvesters, so less timber is on the market. That has helped the price as well, Guy said.
But Guy warns that producers still should check their timber periodically for the trademark brown spots, often located amid lush green trees, which may be the first indication that a property owner has a "beetle spot."
The insect is native to North America and lives predominantly in the inner bark of pine trees. Trees attacked by Southern pine beetles often exhibit hundreds of resin masses, called pitch tubes, on the outer tree bark.
Southern pine beetles carry blue-stain fungi that damages the trees' tissue and blocks water flow in the tree.
Beetle spots can expand at rates of up to 50 feet per day, and uncontrolled infestations may grow to thousands of acres in size. The Southern pine beetle does not attack hardwood species such as oak and hickory.