Southern Pine Beetle still a menace - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Southern Pine Beetle still a menace

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The Southern Pine Beetle, smaller than a grain of rice, is deadly to pine trees The Southern Pine Beetle, smaller than a grain of rice, is deadly to pine trees

By Jay Polk - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) –  All the wet weather we've had lately has weakened pine trees, and that makes them vulnerable to one of the most destructive pests in Georgia.      

Georgia has millions of acres of forested land. "There's 37 million acres total in Georgia, and there's about 24.8 that are forested," said Chad Pritchett of the Georgia Forestry Commission.

And it's not just the pine needles on all those acres that are green.  Forestry has a huge impact on the state's economy. "Last year it had a $26 billion indirect impact," said Chad Pritchett.

But despite their impressive look, forests are fragile ecosystems.  They are extremely vulnerable to the changing weather. "Too dry, drought.  Too much rain which would cause saturated soil, standing water can weaken pine trees," said Pritchett.

And when an ill wind blows in the forest, it's not just the weather that foresters need to be concerned about.  It's these insects.  This is a Southern Pine Beetle.  Even though it's very small; that's a grain of rice to the right of a southern pine beetle in this picture-- it can do very large amounts of damage to the forests.

"Over the last 35 plus years, more than a quarter of a billion dollars of damage has been done in Georgia forests by the Southern Pine Beetle.  But now there's a program designed to help combat these destructive pests," said Pritchett.

The U. S. Forestry service has partnered with the Georgia Forestry Commission to help landowners try to avoid becoming the next victims of the Southern Pine Beetle. "The grant is for $750,000 for this year."

The grant is designed to help landowners by helping to pay for proactive measures to keep the beetles away.  Like thinning the forest through prescribed burns. "The cost share rate is $5 an acre."

Since it costs around $10 per acre for a prescribed burn, that means that the landowner gets back about half of what they paid.  The goal of the program is to avoid a repeat of destructive infestations such as the ones that occurred a few years ago.

"Back in early 2000, 2001 there was a large infestation in North Georgia and several years ago, Middle Georgia had a big infestation."

The deadline for signing up for the southern pine beetle prevention program is March 31st.       You can sign up at your local forestry office or CLICK HERE to get more information on-line.

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