The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) announced plans to suppress an outbreak of invasive Southern pine beetles in the West Tisbury portion of Manuel F. Correllus State Forest.
According to a release from DCR issued August 30, foresters first identified an active infestation of Southern pine beetles, scientific name Dendroctonus frontalis, during an annual aerial survey for forest health in July. State foresters say there was a “pocket of declining and dying pitch pine trees in the northwestern section of the state forest,” which they later confirmed to have been caused by the invasive beetles.
The release said that considering that the state forest is designated as a reserve, where the forest is not actively managed and nature is usually left to take its course, the suppression plan needed approval from the Forest Reserve Science Advisory Committee, an entity specifically created to consider when exceptions are granted.
The state will be cutting down infested trees, which decreases the beetle population and disrupts the chemicals that cause the insects to “aggregate and attack trees.” According to the release, acting quickly limits the spread of these beetles and minimizes tree mortality.
“If left unchecked, the outbreak will expand, and the beetles could spread to other pitch pine stands in the state forest or adjacent private lands,” the release states. “Additionally, the mitigation actions will increase park safety and reduce wildfire risk.”
While Southern pine beetles are native to the southern United States, the species expanded its range northward due to warming conditions driven by climate change. The insects have been monitored by the state since 2015, but this is the first year significant infestations and tree mortality were caused by Southern pine beetles in Massachusetts. The state has also been providing guidance and technical support to private landowners “dealing with this pest.”
The state forest isn’t the only place on Martha’s Vineyard that experienced Southern pine beetle outbreaks. Phillips Preserve, managed by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, and Ripley’s Field Preserve, managed by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, are both actively managed to prevent infestations.
The state is continuing to monitor southern pine beetle population trends and infestation risks through insect traps and ground/aerial surveys. Reports of possible Southern pine beetle activity or suspicious pitch pine mortality should be directed to the DCR Forest Health Program at bit.ly/45sguqa.