JACKSON, Miss. — Forest crews in Mississippi are slugging it out with southern pine beetles, insects the size of a grain of rice that are threatening to destroy tens of thousands of acres of pine stands on four Forest Service ranger districts.
“This outbreak is unprecedented in scope with beetle activity progressing at breakneck speed with infestations rapidly escalating in size, coalescing and decimating whole plantations,” Forest Service entomologist Jim Meeker said.
The southern pine beetle is considered the South’s most destructive forest pest. Recent surveys found more than 3,500 spots of infestation by southern pine beetles on the Homochitto Ranger District, Bienville Ranger District, Tombigbee Ranger District and the Holly Springs Ranger District.
Ground saturation, including frequent pop-up showers, has created a significant challenge to suppression efforts. Because of the amount of recent and continued rainfall, logging crews have limited ability at this time to operate heavy equipment.
“Our crews are working very hard in some extreme conditions including rough terrain and excessive heat,” Forest Supervisor Gretta Boley said. “They are doing an excellent job. Carrying out our work safely is of the utmost importance.”
Staff from the Forest Service and the Mississippi Forestry Commission are working closely with an incident management team to manage the beetle outbreak. “We are working with and reaching out to private landowners who have questions or need assistance related to the southern pine beetle outbreaks,” Mississippi State Forester Charlie Morgan said. “We continue to work with and support our federal partner in responding to the southern pine beetle outbreaks.”
Forest workers are cutting trees to suppress the spread of the beetles and protect resources. Cutting trees helps prevent spot growth by disrupting the beetle pheromone communication system and thus their ability to effectively aggregate and mass attack new pine trees. It is generally thought that most southern pine beetles die before they can colonize trees in a new spot, particularly in the summer when survival outside of the tree is short.