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Quick Action Can Help Save Healthy Trees From Pine Beetle Attack

Ed Hunter (352) 392-1773 x 278

John Foltz, (352) 392-1901
Wayne Odegaard, (352) 754-4433

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GAINESVILLE — With outbreaks of the Southern Pine Beetle occurring in central Florida for the first time and more flare- ups of the destructive insect expected this fall, University of Florida experts say homeowners should act quickly to save their healthy trees.

“To protect individual healthy trees, the best thing to do is remove the infested tree and get a certified pesticide applicator to apply Cyren to the standing trees,” said John Foltz, an associate professor of entomology with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

Cyren is an insecticide that is approved for use on Southern Pine Beetles, Foltz said.

Rick Straker, a forester with the Florida Division of Forestry in Hernando County, said trees that are free of pine beetles need to have their bark saturated with Cyren from about 1 foot above the ground to a height of 30 feet, which is where the beetles generally attack the trees.

“With spraying, the chances of saving trees that have not been infested can be as high as 70 percent,” he said.

Pine beetles and other insects are taking advantage of dead and dying trees damaged by the prolonged drought, but Foltz said the real concern is what might happen in the fall when temperatures start to come down.

“The Southern Pine Beetle is a cool weather beetle, and it could become even more abundant this fall in many parts of the state,” Foltz said. “A hot dry summer is not particularly good for the beetle, but it does stress trees, making them susceptible to beetle attack.”

While most of North Florida has battled beetle outbreaks for several years, the destructive pest has recently erupted in Hernando County. The destructive insect may already have destroyed as much as 20 percent of pine trees in Hernando County in west Central Florida, said county extension director Wayne Odegaard.

“We are seeing a lot of tree deaths,” said Odegaard. “As best we can tell, about 1,200 acres in the county have been affected, meaning about 200,000 trees have been harvested, hauled out and sold for pulp.”

Foltz said to avoid massive outbreaks, landowners need to be on the lookout for signs of the beetle, whose scientific name, dendroctonus, means “tree killer.”

“Landowners and foresters have to be vigilant and react quickly this fall when they find infested trees,” Foltz said. “When the beetle is found, an approved control method — whether it’s harvest, cut and spray, cut and burn or cut and bury — must be implemented.

“The objective is to kill the beetles before they mature, fly out and colonize surrounding trees,” he said. “Commercial timber companies can get equipment in and respond quickly, but small timber firms and the homeowners usually don’t have the means to react quickly enough.”

Straker said landowners are generally reluctant to cut trees that from all outward appearances look healthy.

“Once pine beetles have infested a tree, it’s a no-win situation — the tree is gone,” Straker said. “There is nothing to be done but remove the dead tree and spray the remaining trees.”

With the pine tree harvest nearly five times normal levels, Hernando County landowners are having trouble arranging to have infested trees removed, Straker said.

“The biggest problem we’ve had is a shortage of loggers to cut the dead trees and salvage the wood,” he said. “In the northern part of the state, there are a lot of paper companies and plants and it wasn’t a problem to get loggers to come in to remove dead trees.”

Another problem, as Hernando County landowner Pat King has found out, is that the glut is driving down the price they can get for their trees.

“The pine trees were here as an investment,” said King, who teaches chemistry and physics at Citrus High School in Inverness. “We planted some slash pine in 1976 with the idea that we would eventually log, but weren’t planning on logging this year.”

King said that she first discovered the pine beetle infestation on her 57 acres in March, and contracted to have the trees removed in April. But the logging company was tied up with another contract and couldn’t begin right away.

“By the time the loggers got here,” King said, “the market had already dropped with the flood of all the wood that had been infested by pine beetles, so I’ve already lost money.”