The arrival of an invasive species on Long Island poses a threat to a highly significant ecosystem for all of New York State.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation, in cooperation with other state and federal agencies, has confirmed the presence of southern pine beetle (SPB) in three locations along the southern shore of Long Island. The agency released a statement this morning.
The presence of the beetle was confirmed after the discovery of dead and dying pine trees in portions of the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Connetquot River State Park and the Henry’s Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest. This is the first detection of SPB in New York State, says the DEC.
“The Long Island Pine Barrens is a unique and precious natural resource,” said DEC Commissioner Joe Martens. “Its signature pitch pine resource is seriously threatened by this newly discovered, non-native insect. We are hopeful we have discovered this insect’s presence at an early stage and are committed to working with local, State and Federal partners to determine the extent of the infestation and minimize its spread and impacts.”
The Central Pine Barrens lies over a Federally-designated sole-source aquifer which “provides the only supply of potable drinking water for many of the nearly two million residents of Suffolk County,” said Barrens Commission Executive Director John Pavacic.
The Barrens also contains “one of the highest concentrations of rare, endangered and threatened animal and plant species in all of New York State, some of which are found only on Long Island,” he added.
Possible Connection to Climate Change
The state says that the SPB is a bark beetle native to the southern United States, which has steadily expanded its range north and westward, possibly due to climate change.
Considered one of the “most destructive forest pests in the United States,” SPB attacks all species of pine including pitch pine, the predominant species found in the Pine Barrens. An estimated 1,000 new acres of pine forests in New Jersey have been destroyed each year by SPB since it was found there in 2001.
The state will be conducting aerial surveys in the coming weeks, and suspicious looking damage will be investigated by field staff. New York is hoping to learn from New Jersey’s experience with the beetle. According to the DEC, research in New Jersey shows that SPB in the north east will “most likely overwinter in the pupal stage,” making the coming winter season “a window of opportunity to analyze the situation and devise a strategy to combat it.”
The New York Times reported yesterday that low temperatures last winter “had some biologists and land managers hoping that infesting populations would be killed off,” but a biologist with the National Forest Service stated that the cold snaps “did not last long enough to eliminate the beetles, or prevent them from reproducing.”
Public Is Urged to Help
DEC urges the public to report any recently dead pine they encounter in the Long Island area, especially if there are several trees grouped together.
Sightings should be reported to the Forest Health Diagnostic Lab through the toll-free information line, 1-866-640-0652 or by email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
If possible, accompany any reports via email with photos of the trees including close ups of any damage. An added item in the photo for scale, such as a penny, would help with identification.
SPB photos and maps related to the recent areas of discovery are available on DEC’s website.
“Minimizing the damage to the over 100,000 acres of pine habitat on Long Island is paramount,” says the state.