Southern Pine Beetle Invades NJ

Southern Pine Beetle Invades NJ
By Anthony P Mauro, Sr (c) 2011

Southern Pine Beetle
Southern Pine Beetle Up Close & Personal.
Conservation Corner w/ Anthony P. Mauro, Sr
Conservation Corner w/ Anthony P. Mauro, Sr

USA –-( Southern Pine Beetle Invades NJ
Posted by Anthony P Mauro, Sr on July 16, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Many of you know that the founding principle of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance is conservation. Conservation is also known as the sustainable use of resources and is the method nature uses to manage natural resources. Healthy water, land and forests are key to providing healthy habitat. Healthy habitat is key to providing healthy fish and wildlife populations. Therefore, whether we fish, hunt, trap, hike, bike, bird watch or photograph, we all have a vested interest in ensuring a healthy natural environment – especially since we all depend on the environment for our own health.

Forestry is one method for providing environmental health. Below is an important article about the state of forests in New Jersey. It is written in part by Mr. Bob Williams, C.F., R.P.F.. Bob is an expert in the field of forestry with a notable history of accomplishments. He is also Director of Forestry for the NJOA.

Info on Bob Williams:

Southern Pine Beetle Invades New Jersey Another Example Of Why Forests Need To Be Managed.
By Dr. Ronald F. Billings And Bob Williams

A large faction of the American public has become convinced that the only way to conserve our prized forests on public lands is to stop harvesting, prevent wildfires, and restrict or exclude forest management. Too often this “lock it up and let it go” mentality can have unintended, disastrous consequences, as demonstrated across the nation in recent years. The extensive mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks in lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) forests of the western U.S. and Canada, the bark beetle outbreaks in ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa) forests of the Black Hills of South Dakota, and, most recently, the catastrophic wildfires in Arizona are examples. Add southern pine beetle (D. frontalis) outbreaks in Texas (1975-1993), Tennessee (2000-2001), and now New Jersey to this growing list.e

As its name suggests, the southern pine beetle (SPB) is a major pest of southern pines from Texas to North Carolina. But who ever thought the beetle would become a major problem in New Jersey? Prior to 2001, the last known SPB outbreak of any magnitude in the state occurred in 1930. But, beginning a decade ago, SPB infestations began showing up at low levels in New Jersey’s Pinelands National Reserve (formerly known as the Pine Barrens). The occurrence of SPB attracted little attention until populations skyrocketed to unprecedented levels in 2010, killing at least 14,000 acres of mostly pitch pine (Pinus rigida). The senior author visited the infested area from the air and on the ground in early June and provided control recommendations to the New Jersey Forest Service. He was impressed with how closely the current situation in New Jersey resembled the SPB outbreaks in Texas he observed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As did those in Texas, the New Jersey outbreak provides an excellent lesson for private forest landowners wherever they may live: the best way to ensure a healthy forest is to manage it.

Tom Hirschblond of Vincentown, NJ doing a salvage cut.
Tom Hirschblond of Vincentown, NJ doing a salvage cut.

To understand the current problem, one must know some of the history of southern New Jersey. Prior to being set aside as the Pinelands National Reserve in 1978, the 1.1 million acres of pine/oak woodlands had been a productive, working forest since the 17th century. The first white settlers were attracted by the growing whaling industry in 1650. Natural resources gave rise to other important industries. People used bog iron for cannonballs and household goods, sand for glass (including the first Mason canning jar), and wood for ship building, charcoal, lumber, paper, and cordwood. Shipbuilding began in 1688 and continued until the 1900s. Low lying areas were converted to commercial cranberry bogs as early as 1830, while blueberry farms date back to 1916; these two fruits remain the principal agricultural crops in southern New Jersey today.

The large resource of shortleaf (P. echinata) and pitch pines supplied local paper and sawmills up until the mid 1970s. Environmental restrictions enacted in the late 1970s that preclude cutting trees have since driven these industries out of the state.

The Pinelands harbor 43 endangered and threatened species such as the Pine Barrens tree frog (Hyla andersonii), Pickering’s morning glory (Stylisma pickeringii var. pickeringii), and bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). The area was originally recognized as of value for another critically important resource—water.

Beneath the Pinelands lies a huge natural reservoir—the Kirkwood-Cohansey aquifer system. It extends over 3,000 square miles and holds 17 trillion gallons of water, enough to cover New Jersey in a lake ten feet deep. Efforts to protect this region’s primary source of drinking water began in the 1950s and 1960s. John McPhee’s 1967 national best-selling book The Pine Barrens generated outcry to protect the Pinelands.

In 1977, casino gambling began in Atlantic City, increasing development pressure on the nearby Pinelands. In response to threats of harvesting and development, Congress established the 1.1 million-acre Pinelands National Reserve—the nation’s first such designation—in 1978. In the following year, the New Jersey Pinelands Commission was created to administer the Pinelands Reserve. The Commission has 15 members, including representatives from the state, seven counties, and one federal agency. In 1983, the Reserve was designated a U.S. Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, an agency of the United Nations. More than 53 percent of the land in the Pinelands National Reserve is permanently protected from development.

The dense stands of underbrush and pine are conducive for destructive wildfires. The New Jersey Forest Fire Service (a separate agency from the New Jersey Forest Service) conducts periodic prescribed burns within the Reserve to reduce fuel loads and is called upon to suppress frequent wildfires. Other than prescribed fire, however, forest management is no longer practiced on the Reserve.

To ensure protection of the National Reserve, strict environmental regulations have been passed that affect not only the Reserve, but all the intermingled private lands as well. A permit and Forest Stewardship Plan is required before a private landowner can manage his/her land or fell trees, a process that can take from several months up to a year or more. As a result, the pine forests on the Reserve have gone more than 30 years with no thinning, harvesting, regeneration, or other silvicultural practice, rendering a million acres as “beetle bait.”

The SPB outbreak in New Jersey, first detected in 2001, continues to expand a decade later, primarily in mixed pine/hardwood stands in the southern part of the Pinelands Reserve. If not controlled, the beetles threaten vast areas of pure pitch and shortleaf pine on the Reserve in the central part of the state.

Mild winters since 1995 are believed to have been a contributing factor to the SPB outbreak. Southern pine beetle at the northern extent of its range is killed by very low winter temperatures. Studies by professor Matt Ayers of Dartmouth College and his students have shown that 50 percent of the beetle population will die if winter temperatures reach 0° F and more than 90 percent will not survive if air temperatures drop to -7° F.

Unfortunately, due to recent changes in climate, such temperatures have become rarer in the NJ Pinelands during the last 50 years. Since 1995, for example, winter temperatures have dropped below 0° F in the Pinelands during only one winter (2004). This warming trend has favored the buildup of SPB populations. But other factors, particularly the age (many trees are over 80 years old) and abundance of pine stands, coupled with the lack of both forest management and beetle control, are believed to be primarily responsible for the unprecedented outbreak in this state. Interestingly, the same mild winter temperatures in neighboring Delaware have not led to a SPB outbreak in this state’s pine forests, nor did above-average winter temperatures in New Jersey for seven consecutive years in the 1970s. Delaware foresters are quick to point out that the difference is that forests in their state are kept healthy through forest management (periodic thinning, harvesting, and regeneration).

The lesson being learned in New Jersey about what happens when management is withheld from working forests is not new. Texas gained its first hard-knock experience with SPB outbreaks on pine-dominated preserve areas in 1975-77 with units being set aside for the 85,000-acre Big Thicket National Preserve. Essentially all the mature loblolly pines (P. taeda) on the Loblolly Unit and a large portion of those on the Lance Rosier and Beech Creek units were destroyed by uncontrolled SPB infestations.

Texas was slow to learn the lesson. In 1983-84, some 3,400 acres of unmanaged loblolly pine were lost to SPB in the Four Notch area of the Sam Houston National Forest, being considered at the time for wilderness designation under the RARE II process. The losses in this case were largely a result of environmental activist interventio n that delayed timely control. A similar SPB outbreak occurred in 1990-93 on newly-designated wilderness areas on the Sabine, Angelina, and Davy Crockett National Forests. Over 40 percent of the pine type on wilderness was lost to SPB in less than 3 years, including 7,500 acres on Indian Mounds Wilderness alone. In sharp contrast, on non-wilderness areas of the National Forests in Texas, SPB killed less than 2 percent of the pine type during the same period. The latter forests were managed and expanding SPB infestations were promptly controlled by means of salvage and cut-and-leave.

Contributing factors to the 1990-93 SPB outbreak on wilderness areas in Texas included lack of recent forest management, abundance of older, susceptible pine stands, environmental activist pressure to do nothing, environmental regulations that precluded cutting trees for beetle control on wilderness, and favorable environmental conditions. Sounds much like the situation in the Pinelands of New Jersey today!

Until federal policies change to allow more aggressive forest management, there may be little that can be done to avoid insect and disease outbreaks and devastating wildfires on wilderness, preserve, and park lands. But, private forest landowners can take measures to avoid these resource losses through sound forest stewardship. Products from a managed forest will pay the costs associated with maintaining forest health. Also, forest management allows owners to conserve aesthetic values, protect watersheds, and avoid abrupt and catastrophic changes due to wildfires and/or beetle outbreaks.

The take-home message is “a managed forest is a healthy forest,” or in bumper-sticker brevity: “Use it or lose it!”

Color The Green Movement Blue
Color The Green Movement Blue

Anthony P. Mauro, Sr, (also known as “Ant” to friends and associates) is Chairman and co-founder of the New Jersey Outdoor Alliance.

In addition to NJOA, Ant’s commitment to the principles of sustainable use of natural resources and stewardship for the environment helped to found the New Jersey Angling & Hunting Conservation Caucus. The NJAHC is the first outdoor caucus of its kind in New Jersey and is designed to educate opinion leaders and policy makers of the principles of conservation and the benefits that confer to the state’s wildlife and ecology.

A lifelong resident of New Jersey, Ant is an international big game hunter and avid conservationist. He has authored two books on conservation and hunting, including “Color The Green Movement Blue“.