NJ Pine Forests Facing Deadly Enemy

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Los Angeles Times
    087999.ME.0930.Beetles.IK --- Barton Flats. Sept. 30, 2004. --- An example of dead western pine beetles alongside a bark beetle, left.

    It may be the most serious threat to the Pinelands of South and Central Jersey since the bulldozer.

    In fact, the Southern Pine Beetle may be much, much worse.

    In Galloway Township, homeowner Carol Atkinson is still reeling from the attack on her trees.

    "We just bought the property not too long ago and it's being destroyed," Atkinson said. "I have 20 acres down back--it's completely dead," she said of the pine trees that were healthy just a few months ago.

    She then added "They're starting to fall over now."

    An infestation that started in 2001 in Cape May County with a few acres, according to New Jersey Forest Service official John Klishchies, exploded to 14 thousand acres of dead and dying trees this summer and fall.

    And this appears to be just the beginning.

    "We see this in the West," said forester Robert Williams of a cousin to the Southern Pine Beetle, "millions of acres, not thousands, of dead trees."

    As a vivid example, he added "Go to Aspen, Colorado where wealthy people are quite upset because they have to look at a dead forest, and be subject to that fire hazard."

    With many homeowners such as Atkinson carving a homestead out of the Pinelands, the potential of dead forests going up in flames is very real.

    Williams say they need better management before the beetle strikes, including thinning as well as controlled burns.

    But controlled burns in the nation's most densely populated state seem a bit problematic.

    Klischies, the state forestry official, says when dead trees are found on state property, they are isolated and cut down.

    But other than advice, there's not much that can be done for dead trees on private property.

    Atkinson, the homeowner, said she and her husband will cut down the ones closest to their home.

    Klischies said it takes sustained cold weather of 0 degrees(F) to kill the beetles, something that is happening less and less frequently in New Jersey as the climate changes and winters grow shorter.

    Throw in the milder temperatures expected with this upcoming La Nina winter, and officials are worried that next summer could see yet another explosion of the beetle across Ocean County, and possibly into the smaller pine forests of Monmouth County.

    Follow Brian Thompson on Twitter @brian4NY