Pine beetles plaguing NJ Pinelands

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's only February, but the state Department of Environmental Protection has crews out in Wharton State Forest cutting down fields of damaged pine trees.

It's an effort to stop the spread of the southern pine beetle, which destroyed about 7,000 acres of forestland in New Jersey last year and is already active this year.

"The warm winter has created the conditions that are ripe for them to start to move again," said Pine Beetle Project Manager Ron Corcory.

The pine beetles are tiny but are doing enormous damage to the million-plus acres of South Jersey's Pinelands.

The view from Chopper 6 shows what's happening. The beetles bore tiny holes to get under the bark and carry a fungus that blocks the tree's ability to conduct water. The trees literally die of thirst.

"Rot. Alot of rot," said Joe Mazza. "Dead. They're pretty much gone."

Joe Mazza is one of the contractors clearing beetle-damaged trees. He showed me some are so bad, the inside of the trees are completely rotted out.

The goal is to contain the beetle," Corcory told Action News, "going in and cutting the area of trees that are infected. And then you cut a buffer around that."

Because the beetles' infestation is so widespread, the DEP is offering federal matching grants to private landowners, municipalities and counties to help pay for cutting, burning or whatever they have to do to stop the spread.

Some environmentalists have complained about the cutting, but the project manager says action is needed.

"There might not be a Pinelands anymore if we were to just let it go," said Corcory.

Meantime DEP officials are hoping for some sustained freezing weather because that would kill the beetles, too.

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