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Escambia County not immune from Pine Beetle attack

By By ROBERT BLANKENSHIP
Advance Managing Editor
As if the drought has not been tough enough on Alabama woodlands, now they face another familiar enemy as Southern Pine Beetles set in for the second year in a row, destroying pines at epidemic proportions in some counties.
The stress pines have experienced over the past months combined with the unusually warm winter has set many trees up to be easily attacked and killed by Pine Beetles.
Last summer, many counties were listed on the pine beetle epidemic list. In the fall of 1999 there were still a large number of infestations and with very little cold weather the spots continued to spread. During detection flights by the Alabama Forestry Commission in February of this year, those infestations were still active. They have once again increased as the hot, dry summer continues beating down on the region.
Escambia County is also having problems with the Southern Pine Beetle and another, the Ips Beetle. But, the problem is not as serious here as it is in other areas.
One reason that Escambia has historically had fewer Southern Pine Beetles to worry about is the large amount of long-needle pines in the area.
U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL) has asked Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to quickly approve a $1.3 million emergency request to help combat the recent breakout.
Trees in 59 of the state's 67 counties have been infested, with 51 of those counties reaching epidemic levels. Almost 400,000 trees in Alabama have been infested, which is an increase of 578 percent since May.
Although not at epidemic proportions, Escambia County has also been victim of the Pine Beetle.
The southern pine beetle is considered the most destructive forest insect in the South. Weakening of the trees by flooding, windstorms and especially drought commonly precedes these outbreaks. Trees of all sizes are attacked, but usually those larger than six inches are infested first.
The Pine Beetle is brown or black in color and measures about an eighth-of-an-inch long. Its hind end is rounded, in contrast to the scooped out posterior of most other beetles. The larvae are white with a reddish-brown head and the pupae pure white. The eggs are white and are visible to the eye.
The first indication of an attack is the yellowing or browning of the needles of the pine. Examination of the trunk of the tree will usually reveal white, yellow or sometimes red-brown pitch tubes. Examination of infested trees by removal of the bark will show a distinctive winding S-shaped pattern. Active spots or patches are distinctive in that the center trees have dark reddish-brown foliage gradually changing until those on the edge have light greenish or yellowish-green foliage.
The adult beetles are usually attracted to weakened trees. However, during times of epidemic they have been known to attack trees that are healthy. Initially, the beetle attacks the mid-trunk area and then goes up and down the length of the tree. They bore through the bark and excavate long winding S-shaped galleries. Eggs are laid in niches along those galleries. After pupation the adult beetles chew through the bark and emerge. The complete life cycle of the attack takes from 25 to 40 days to complete, depending on temperature.
Alabama has suffered from Southern Pine Beetle outbreaks before, but never this severe. The drought centered over Alabama and other southern states, plus this summer's severe heat, created a virtually unlimited supply of pine trees vulnerable to the pine beetle.
recover. Unlike traditional crop agriculture, which can recover in one
year, it will take 20 years before a new crop of trees can be harvested," said Bachus.