WASHINGTON — The Southern pine beetle is one of the most destructive pine insect pests in North America. While the beetle is endemic to the Southeastern United States, warming temperatures in recent years have allowed it to expand its range. The first time the SPB was found infesting trees outside of its known range was in New York on the Wertheim Wildlife Refuge and several other sites on Long Island in 2014. To meet this challenge, entomologist Kevin Dodds, along with state, and federal colleagues, built a team of local and national scientists, managers, administrators, and stakeholders to advance science-based management of this climate-induced expansion. The team worked to gain public trust and responded to the threat using conventional and unconventional tools, including rapid deployment of a Forest Health Working Team mobilized under the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact. Overall, in less than a year, the team stood up a program that has successfully installed SPB suppression, prevention, research, and outreach. Suppression started within months of the first SPB detection. The resulting program is restoring rare landscapes while reducing the spread of the SPB.
When SPB was first detected, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service requested emergency suppression funds from the Forest Service, Forest Health Program. Funds were released and the race was on to initiate suppression efforts before the beetles emerged and spread. The USFWS utilized the newly formed Forest Health Working Team of the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact to mobilize saw crews from compact agencies, including agencies from Quebec and Nova Scotia, to safely remove thousands of trees, suppress SPB at the refuge, and improve forest health in at-risk forests. This was the first major and unsubsidized mobilization of the Forest Health working team. Suppression also occurred at Fire Island National Seashore and continues on State, private, and Federal lands.
The larger management team was formed during the initial response with representatives from the land management agencies, scientists, and stakeholders from New York and from the South. The team developed a plan to protect the native habitats and rare ecosystems that have SPB-susceptible tree species and to restore affected ecosystems in one of the heaviest wildland-urban intermix areas in the United States on the single-source aquifer for Long Island. The plan serves as a template for integrated SPB survey/management and aligns the authorities for the many different land management agencies and commissions, including the Forest Service, Forest Health Program; U.S. Departments of Energy and the Interior; New York State Parks; NYSDEC; and the Central Pine Barrens Commission through an incident command system.
The SPB suppression required the removal of thousands of trees in the wildland-urban intermix, which drew some criticism from the public and generated interesting and unique questions. Will southern strategies to manage SPB work in the oak-pine mixed stands of Long Island? Will SPB behavior change during this unprecedented climate-induced expansion? Will SPB impact the eastern white pine which dominates the northern forests? The Northeastern Area Forest Health program working with entomologists from the Southern Region and researchers from Southern Research Station entered into cooperative agreements with NYDEC, Dartmouth College, and the University of Vermont to address these and other important questions. The Central Pine Barrens Commission hosted representatives from the participating agencies and universities to participate in a public forum in the spring of 2017. The forum attracted more than 200 local landowners and stakeholders that fostered overwhelming public support for the team.
Addressing forest pests is the core mission of the Forest Health Program. While the authorities are there, it takes something special to recognize and execute in a timely way. What makes the SPB response in New York unique is how quickly and cooperatively the team was formed to successfully initiate a robust management program by multiple agencies with overlapping authorities, commissions, and stakeholders to address climate induced range expansion by a serious forest pest.