Beware the beetle invasion

Published 12:02 am Monday, July 16, 2012

NATCHEZ — A tiny beetle could make a big difference in Adams County’s forestry industry if left unchecked.

The U.S. Forest Service logged two infestations of the southern pine beetle in Adams County earlier this month, and the forest service found 250 active cases of southern pine beetle infestations in the Homochitto National Forest in the months of May and June.

“The pine beetle is extremely invasive and they spread very quickly,” said Sen. Melanie Sojourner, the chair of the senate forestry committee and a pine plantation owner.

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“Forestry is one of the largest economic industries to our state, and the damage the beetle causes can be devastating. There is no doubt that a pine beetle outbreak would be a tremendous hit to the industry here.”

According to information from the Mississippi State Extension Service, one of the first symptoms of a pine beetle infestation is that the needles in the crown of a tree start to change color to a dull green before turning brown and falling. Southern pine beetles tend to infest several trees at a time, and are attracted to trees that have been weakened by drought or flood.

“One tree starts dying and then all of a sudden seven or eight around them starts dying,” Sojourner said. “The best thing to do is go in there and take them all out.”

Good forest management has prevented pine beetle outbreaks for some time, and Mississippi Forestry Commission Executive Director Hedrick Radcliff said he would encourage landowners to start taking educational opportunities offered by the extension service to become more knowledgeable about the subject.

“Pine beetles are often found in forests that are often not healthy, well-managed forests,” Hedrick said. “What is unfortunate is they sometimes spread from there.”

“With the potential for infestation we know is out there, this is one of those times the private landowners now more than ever should be engaged with professional forestry experts and make sure their stand is in good forest health.”

Sojourner said she saw a pine beetle infestation in Colorado that killed a whole mountainside of trees.

“The devastation we have seen there, we do not want to see here,” she said. “The better we do at the front end, the better we can prevent it.”