Bryan County is one of two counties in coastal Georgia with known damage to pine trees from the voracious southern pine beetle, a Georgia Forestry ranger said Tuesday.
About three acres in Bryan County and pine trees in Glynn County have been affected by the pest, Chief Ranger David Duke said, noting property owners should be aware of the possibility of what he called “group infestations,” resulting in damage to stands of pine trees.
“I don’t want to panic anybody,” Duke said. “We just think property owners should keep their eyes on their pine trees.”
The last time such an infestation occurred in Bryan was in 2001, but it was unclear Tuesday how many acres of trees were affected in that infestation.
The southern pine beetle is native to Georgia, Duke said, and such infestations are normal occurrences. Outbreaks of the beetles are more common in north Georgia, but do happen here.
In Georgia, the outbreaks occur in cycles roughly every eight to 10 years, and usually later in the year.
But it’s been almost 15 years since the last infestation and because of that, the potential for the insects to cause more damage to trees is “moderate to high,” Duke said, noting a lot of rainfall hasn’t helped.
“These beetles attack trees that are under some form of stress,” Duke said. “It could be drought, it could be they’re overstocked and too many are planted in once place, or it could be a lightning struck tree. This year it’s been such a wet season and that will put the trees in stress.”
That stress opens the door
for the beetles, which burrow into a weakened pine tree’s bark and then uses a chemical signal to attract other beetles. As their population explodes, insects move to other trees, expanding their reach while destroying the trees.
Cutting buffers to keep the pests from spreading seems to be the best way to prevent the insects from causing widespread damage. Duke said find the outermost trees infected and then cut a buffer anywhere from 50 to 75 feet, and leave the infected trees on the ground.
“They don’t spread very far,” Duke said. “If you cut beyond what you know is infected, they won’t go from tree to tree.”
The southern pine beetles were discovered in south Bryan after residents in The Bluffs noticed dying trees.
One of those residents was Chief Warrant Officer 3 Joshua McCann, an Army helicopter pilot with four tours in Iraq who was home eating breakfast in July when he noticed the sun shining in through trees.
““I was eating breakfast and looking through the window and saw the sun where I didn’t used to see it,” he said. “I saw brown pine needles back there where it was usually green”
McCann, whose home sits on about 2.5 acres, went outside and walked around his lot.
“I started seeing all these dead trees with bore holes in the bottom,” he said. “I went back to the house and got online because I figured it was some kind of a beetle. Then, about two days later, my next door neighbor came over to talk to me. He said, ‘we’ve got the same problem.’”
As word spread in July, about 35 homeowners in the development met with Georgia Forestry rangers. After flyovers of South Bryan, trees in handful of areas near The Bluffs and one spot near Fort McAllister road were identified as suffering from infestations of the beetles.
Often, such infestations can go unnoticed, especially in areas where there’s little development.
“The only difference this time is it happened right behind a subdivision and someone noticed,” Duke said.
McCann, who purposely left a portion of his lot uncleared to enjoy the trees, said he wishes he’d noticed it sooner.
“If I’d caught this in April or May, I might have only lost a tenth of the trees I’ve lost,” McCann said.
Notes: Photos of tree damage are online. A Georgia Forestry ranger will speak to the Richmond Hill Garden Club on southern pine beetles on Sept. 10.