The southern pine beetle, one of the most destructive forest pests in the Southeast U.S., which has already destroyed millions of acres in its native South, has made its way to the State of Maine. The beetle was discovered in Waterboro, Maine last fall, and scientists say the ecosystem of Maine’s pitch pine barrens is now at risk.
The southern pine beetle’s Latin genus name Dendroctonus means “tree killer.” One southern pine beetle is only half the size of a grain of rice. Yet, its infestations are vast enough to be seen from outer space. This highly adapted tree killer prefers the “hard pine” species like red, pitch, and jack, and is by nature epidemic.
Caroline Kanaskie is the Ph.D. student from University of New Hampshire who discovered the insect in pheromone-baited traps in southern Maine last fall. She notes that, “A couple singular beetles can’t really hurt a tree or they’re often in dead or dying trees. But when thousands of beetles are there together, and they’re communicating with these chemicals, they can mass attack single healthy trees and continue the cycle from there.” Kanaskie said the beetle, which kills thousands of acres of pine forest annually, could harm New England’s pitch pines community.
Maine state entomologist Tom Schmeelk also expressed concern. “Maine has quite a bit at risk,” he said. “There are the inland pine barrens that are a globally rare ecosystem. There’s also the pitch pine community and jack pine community all up and down Maine’s coast are at risk. And then also the economic impacts to people that have red pine plantations that they were hoping to use as a piggy bank for a rainy day.”
According to Jeff Garnas, a University of New Hampshire Forest health scientist, although the beetle is a new problem in the Northeast, down South foresters have been dealing with it for centuries and have developed effective management practices. Garnas added that “If you detect spikes in populations in a particular area, and then go up in an airplane, or increasingly drones, and look for spots of dead trees in the forest.”
Where infestations are mounting, loggers will harvest a swath of trees in their path. The infestation is stopped, and the logs can be hauled off and milled to cover expenses.
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Maine forests at risk after discovery of southern pine beetle in York County