The first sighting of the southern pine beetle in Alabama’s forests happened last year. And right away, Cynthia Ragland and her team sprang into action.
Ragland is the district ranger for the Talladega National Forest in the Oakmulgee district, a district that touches approximately seven counties southeast of Birmingham. Very quickly, Ragland pulled together interested parties that included landowners, foresters, and state and federal experts. Not long after, the team had a plan set and ready.
The southern pine beetle is considered the most destructive insect to wreak havoc on pine trees across the southern United States. According to one historical review, between 1960 and 1990, pine beetles caused more than $900 million in damage to forests. Experts estimate that there could be up to a million acres of trees affected by the bug.
Typically, the southern pine beetle, or Dendroctonus frontalis Zimmermann, infests unhealthy, stressed, or injured trees. However, the beetle is also known to invade and kill healthy trees, too.
The pests aren’t just limited to the forest, either. According to Alabama News Center, they can also appear in the suburbs and in urban parks.
Once the beetles take up residence in a tree, up to 10,000 bugs can invade a tree at a time. Once they begin to populate, the tree has zero chance of survival.
Ragland and her team’s plan is in three parts: first, to make sure that federal and state experts work closely with landowners to keep infestations under control.
The second and thirds aspects, however, are a bit unorthodox. Ragland hopes that the infestation will incite a change of how Alabama’s forests are managed, ultimately making them healthier in the long run.
In order to reduce the outbreak, experts recommend ridding the forests of any and all sick or dying trees. Just like how pruning trees once per year helps keep them healthy, eliminating dead trees helps to keep the forests and parks healthy in the long run.