I got surprised again last week. I get used to working with local growers and gardeners and mercifully forget that there are people in charge of food and fiber resources who are well meaning but profoundly ignorant.
The local growers know the land, are tied to it and know that they have to deal with nature on its terms, how it really works, not how they wish it worked. Then there are those who come into possession of, for example, forest land and have no clue how to manage it but are certain they do not want to cut any trees because trees are holy and beautiful and should never be cut.
This time it was about something I do not usually get too involved in, because others are already ably handling that area. This time it was southern pine beetle (SPB) in coastal Georgia.
The Georgia Forestry Commission has point on commercial forestry issues so my involvement is at the fringes. There was an outbreak of SPB in the Richmond Hill area recently and the GFC got the landowners involved and helped them address the issue. This is an off year for SPB.
Outbreaks usually occur in six to 12 year cycles and last two or three years before subsiding. Just because it is not an outbreak year does not mean the beetle is not out there, it is. SPB is just not out there is enough quantity to boil over into an epidemic infestation – as long as you stomp it out quickly before it spreads.
GFC is constantly monitoring for forest diseases, insects and other threats. On these off years they have time to let folk like me tag along and learn first-hand what these hot spots look like and how they handle the issues – also so we don’t get underfoot when they are in the middle of a pitched battle.
When SPB feeds on a tree, scents are sent out that attract more beetles to the tree. As more beetles converge and feed, more scent is released, and calls more beetles from even farther away.
It’s like Bethany inviting a few friends over for a party on Saturday night and one friend posts it and two hundred kids show up. It gets really unmanageable really fast.
If you are Bethany’s dad you have to be very firm and very clear that there is no party here so turn right around and be on your way. If dad does not do that there is a good chance his house will not be livable come morning, he will get to know all the police officers working night shift, and his neighbors will be suing him over spillover damage done to their property as well.
Once a hot spot of SPB starts the landowner has a number of options. All involve stopping the spread of the beetles to nearby healthy trees.
That means cutting the infested trees and at least a halo of apparently un-infested trees as a safety precaution.
That means the beetle and not the landowner is determining what trees are cut and where.
Why give the beetle this level of control over your trees and time? Often the outbreak can be avoided with good forestry management practices. SPB tends to show up on stressed trees. Sometimes nature stresses trees with drought. But more often, landowners allow trees to become stressed by letting too many trees occupy too small a piece of land. The land only supports so much green. As trees approach the carrying limit of the land, they slow down their growth and become stressed.
The solution is to thin the stand – harvest out some of the trees to make more land resources available to the trees that remain so they can continue to grow under less stress. Less stressed trees leads to less attraction to SPB.
Some folk refuse to learn.
Recently one Georgia landowner had an SPB infestation that cost him 100 acres of trees. He was told at the time that his land was overstocked and he needed to thin the trees or SPB would be back. He didn’t thin the trees and two years later he had over forty hot spots of SPB in the same tract.
The only solution was to clearcut a thousand acres of pine to stop the spread of SPB. If you don’t thin them, nature will.
He didn’t want to cut any trees, so he lost all of them.
You can’t stop SPB or any other tree insect or disease by hugging a tree, any more than standing in the middle of the field with your arms raised to the sky chanting “Deer Be Gone! Deer Be Gone!” in a loud voice while spinning in a clockwise will stop deer from eating your plants. There is reality and there is fantasy. Apparently way too many people cannot tell the difference.