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Long Island Foresters Outwit Ravenous Pine Beetles

Frank Eltman
John Wernet, a forester with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, examines bark from a damaged pine tree in the Rocky Point Natural Resources Management Area in Rocky Point, N.Y.

Since 2014, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has been at war with the southern pine beetle. The bugs come from states like Alabama and Georgia, and they live off of pitch pines, the signature species of Long Island’s Pine Barrens.

While sub-zero temperatures have an effect on the population, John Wernet, a forester for the DEC, says the snow from the recent nor’easters do not. “If it did, the only effect it would be, would be insulation. But, I mean the snow would be on the ground, the beetles are in the trees, so I think it would be negligible if anything.”

Once they settle in, southern pine beetles are nearly impossible to get rid of, but Wernet says since the beetles were discovered four years ago, department efforts to control the population have made a difference. “A lot of the areas that were blowing up and becoming a problem have actually seen a huge reductions in beetle populations.”

Foresters use controlled fire and strategically cut-down trees to keep forests healthy and able to defend against beetles.