John and Emelia Klonowski were devastated to learn that most of the trees surrounding their Hampton Bays home were being attacked by a non-native intruder: the southern pine beetle.
Mr. Klonowski first noticed in August that some of the trees near his Red Creek Road property were dying, which prompted him to send a picture of them to the State Department of Environmental Conservation. A DEC representative responded to Mr. Klonowski, confirming that the trees were being victimized by a southern pine beetle infestation.
“This thing is not easy to contain,” Mr. Klonowski said of the beetle, which can now be found throughout most of Suffolk County, with a concentration in the Hampton Bays area. “By thinning out our trees, I’m hoping it won’t spread to the remaining trees that we have.”
Mr. Klonowski explained this week that he and his wife hired a professional arborist to cut down nearly 45 pine trees on his 1-acre property over the past several weeks. Their out-of-pocket cost: about $9,000.
The southern pine beetle, a bark beetle native to the southern United States, typically works in groups to obstruct the flow of water inside pine trees, causing them to die, DEC spokesowoman Aphrodite Montalvo explained in an email this week. When the beetles attack a tree, they create small, white holes in its bark.
It is believed that the southern pine beetle made its way north because of climate change.
Ms. Montalvo wrote that the DEC has been cutting down trees and thinning forests affected by the beetles, which is the most common way to minimize their spread. Insecticides, she explained, have proven to be mostly ineffective against the beetle and can be a threat to drinking water supplies.
“It’s a shame,” Ms. Klonowski said. “It was so beautiful looking out the window and seeing the trees.”
The Klonowskis are not the only ones affected by the southern pine beetle invasion in Hampton Bays. The DEC is currently working to eradicate the beetle from Munns Pond County Park, on both county-owned and privately held land east of Bellows Pond Road, and inside Hubbard County Park—including areas adjacent to Red Creek Road. The DEC is also using ground and aerial survey teams to detect new infestations throughout the region, according to Ms. Montalvo.
The southern pine beetle is also threatening parts of the Long Island Pine Barrens, according to Dick Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. “It is clearly a major ecological crisis and it is not yet being managed appropriately,” he said. “We will, in January, go to the State Legislature and governor and ask for the necessary commitment of funds, because the winter is when you can best control the insects.”
Mr. Amper estimated that it will cost about $3.5 million to manage the beetle infestation. “The problem has been that there hasn’t been sufficient funding for it,” he said.
The funding would cover the costs of cutting down the infested trees, ideally in the winter, and replanting them, Mr. Amper said. Such a process is safest to complete during the winter, because the beetles will not move to other trees in the cold weather.
“The object of the game is to cut them down in the cold weather, when the southern pine beetle can’t leave the tree and affect other trees,” Mr. Amper said.
Since the southern pine beetle made its way to Long Island last year, an estimated 7,000 pine trees were cut to help mitigate the Southern Pine Beetle infestation, according to Mr. Amper. In New Jersey, more than 40,000 acres of trees have been killed by the beetle.
In addition to the southern pine beetle, there have been sightings of the bug’s close relative, the black turpentine beetle. Over the summer, the black turpentine beetle prompted Tom Salvatore, another Hampton Bays resident, to cut down hundreds of pine, oak and other hardwood trees near his parents’ house on Newtown Road.
Mr. Salvatore started cutting down the dead trees in June, explaining that only a few of them could be saved. He said that most had been decimated by the black turpentine beetle.
Like the southern pine beetle, the black turpentine beetle is also native to the South and kills pine trees by obstructing the flow of water inside them. Black turpentine beetles, however, typically attack in smaller numbers and target the bottom half of trees.
DEC officials are urging the public to contact them when they spot dead pine trees on Long Island, especially clusters of them. Reports should be made to the DEC’s Forest Health Diagnostic Lab using the toll-free information line, 1-866-640-0652. The office also accepts emails via email@example.com.