Town Plans Cleanup of Trees Felled in Pine Beetle Infestation

A New York State DEC worker uses a chain saw to fell one of the trees marked for removal as a result of Pine Beetle infestation in Northwest Woods back in 2017. Michael Heller photo

East Hampton Town officials are looking to cleanup and reforest a large swath of town-owned land on Swamp Road in Northwest Woods — a parcel that Scott Wilson, the town’s director of land management, said on Tuesday was likely the epicenter of a southern pine beetle infestation that began in 2017.

Late that year, the town declared a state of emergency when it discovered the beetle had migrated north and had begun infesting pitch pines in Northwest Woods, implementing an aggressive forest management plan on over 200 properties stretching over 1,500 acres. According to Mr. Wilson, over 12,600 trees were felled in an effort to stave off the infestation on both private and public lands.

While the state of emergency has since passed, Mr. Wilson said during a town board work session on Tuesday that his department is still inspecting and identifying infested trees, although in much smaller numbers than found in 2017 and 2018. That said, Mr. Wilson encouraged property owners to remain vigilant and contact the town immediately if they suspect an infestation. While the town cannot actively fell trees on private property, it can identify an infestation and advise homeowners before the problem grows to infest multiple trees.

“The beetles are active now,” Mr. Wilson said on Tuesday. “And we are getting calls and identifying trees, but the numbers are so much smaller than last year. We are cutting in ones and twos and threes.”

“And if they go uncut,” cautioned Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc, “the one tree becomes 10 trees and 10 trees becomes 100 and 100 becomes 1,000 trees — literally by a factor of 10 in a very short time. Just a matter of weeks.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Wilson explained to cull the pine beetle infestation the town and the Department of Environmental Conservation implemented a cut and leave program, which while effective, is also unsightly.

“There have been a number of strong requests from the public to the town requesting clearing and reforestation, so I am here to speak about that clean-up on town-owned lands only, particularly on the Curtis property, on the north side of Swamp Road,” said Mr. Wilson.

The 33-acre property had roughly 2,400 trees felled. Mr. Wilson said his department was coordinating with the highway department, potentially with help from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department’s work labor program, to cut and remove the trees — largely by hand to avoid harming the land. The focus would be on clearing 1,250 feet of road frontage on Swamp Road of felled trees and allowing reforestation to occur through the area’s natural seed bank or by purchasing pitch pine saplings, said Councilman David Lys, the town board liaison to land management.

“This is a potential action plan that will not be done in a week or a month. This will take a couple months because there are a ton of trees left up there,” said Mr. Lys. “If we can do this, start now, over the next couple months we might have revegetation of that scenic pathway done and done soon, certainly sooner than if we have mother nature take its course.”

In addition to town-owned land on Swamp Road, the town will also look at reforestation at Edward’s Hole Preserve, which students from East Hampton High School are interested in getting involved in, said Mr. Wilson, as well as a section of land off Two Holes of Water.

“My office has received quite a few calls from people who live in that area and drive down that stretch of road because it has become very unsightly,” said Mr. Van Scoyoc. “It looks like a war zone or a bomb went off with that devastation of trees, so if we can offer those roadsides a break from that devastation I think the community would appreciate that.”