It won’t be easy to stamp out the Southern Pine Beetle — a tiny, reddish-brown bark beetle about the size of a grain of rice that has infested and killed thousands of pine trees in Suffolk County — but two Long Island state legislators have taken the first step.
State Assemblymen Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor and Steve Englebright of East Setauket, who is chairman of the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee, joined forces earlier this year in advocating for a $3.5 million state budget appropriation to help develop and implement a comprehensive Southern Pine Beetle management and control program.
The funds for the so-called SPB eradication efforts have just been included in the Assembly’s recently unveiled 2016-17 state budget proposal, Mr. Thiele announced on March 17. If passed, the money would come from state Environmental Protection Fund coffers.
But it isn’t in the bank yet. Budget negotiations are currently underway in Albany, and any proposal advanced by the Democratic-controlled Assembly would have to be reconciled with a companion proposal from the Republican-dominated state Senate. The final budget is due on April 1.
Meanwhile, the casualties are rising. The beetle is widespread throughout Suffolk County, with the largest infestations in Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, Connetquot River State Park, Hubbard County Park and Henry’s Hollow Pine Barrens State Forest, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
In 2014, DEC officials confirmed a full-blown Southern Pine Beetle infestation on Long Island that has already affected more than 1,000 acres of pitch pines in the Long Island Pine Barrens. Mr. Thiele said that DEC has since been responsive to infestations on public lands, but added that its funding has been limited.
The beetle’s victims include every kind of pine tree, including pitch pine, white pine, and red pine, as well as spruce trees and hemlocks in highly infested areas, according to DEC. Hardwood trees are not affected. The adult beetle enters a tree through crevices in its bark, creating S-shaped tunnels that can disrupt the flow of nutrients and typically kill off a tree in as little two to four months, according to the DEC.