Ga. Drought Takes Partial Blame for Destructive Bug Infestation

September 10, 2007

Thousands of acres of trees are being killed in Georgia this summer by one of the worst infestations of Southern pine beetles in decades, forestry officials say.

Carolyn Johnson, assistant refuge manager at Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in central Georgia, says some of the loggers who have been helping stop the pest from spreading there tell her it is the worst outbreak they’ve seen since the late 1970s or early ’80s.

With 179 infested spots across the refuge, Johnson said the map on which they are plotted “looks as if you shot the map with a shotgun.”

In the surrounding Oconee National Forest, 2,000 acres of pine trees have been lost so far this year, said Erin Bronk, district ranger for the Oconee Ranger District, which includes forests in Jones, Jasper, Putnam, Morgan and Greene counties.

“We have 700 identified spots scattered over about two-thirds of the Oconee National Forest, which would be an impact area of about 80,000 acres,” Bronk said.

Foresters try to stop the beetles by identifying and marking infested areas and then calling in loggers to cut the dead and dying trees and to create a buffer of healthy pines around them.

The Middle Georgia outbreak is part of what a U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service report predicts will be the loss of nearly half a million acres of pine forest to the pest in the South this year.

The drought is partially to blame, because it weakens trees that are then less resistant to the beetles.

The beetles bore tiny holes through the bark of pine trees, then tunnel galleries in the tree to feed, mate and lay their eggs. They also introduce a blue-stain fungus into the tree, and the beetles and fungus combine to inhibit water flow in the tree, killing it.

Information from: The Macon Telegraph,

http://www.macontelegraph.com

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