Tiny beetles are eating away at one of the state’s largest industries. Infestations of Southern pine beetles and Ips beetles, which normally aren’t seen in Alabama forests until late spring and summer, are being reported earlier than normal and in higher numbers around the state.
“The Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) routinely conducts aerial surveys, and since Jan. 1 has recorded 250 areas with beetle damage,” said Alabama Farmers Federation’s Rick Oates. “Last year, 650 spots were reported statewide.”
Oates, the Federation’s Forestry Division director, said last year’s drought stressed trees, making them susceptible to the Southern pine beetle, Ips engraver beetle and black turpentine beetle — or a combination of all three. Landowners may not know insects are present until trees begin to die, he said.
Pines of various ages and sizes fall victim, from seedlings to mature trees, according to AFC Forester/Forest Health Coordinator Dana Stone. Most affected pines have brown needles and pitch tubes, indicating bark beetle infestation, she said.
The only remedy for stopping the beetles is to cut down affected trees along with a buffer around them, Oates said.
“There’s a real concern our state could see significant losses in our forests because of the high number of cases already recorded,” Oates said. “That represents a big financial loss for landowners who will have to sell timber prematurely and for less money. Landowners also could be challenged to find loggers willing to harvest damaged timber.”
Visit forestry.alabama.gov for information. Landowners who suspect beetle damage should contact a local forestry consulting firm or the AFC at (334) 240-9300.