Alabama’s eleven billion dollar timber industry could be at risk due to a very small bug.
Southern Pine Beetle populations have reached epidemic levels in Montgomery County. The beetles are also found in the Oakmulgee district of the Talladega National Forest and an area including Marengo, Clarke, and Choctaw counties.
Southern Pine Beetles are a native species that damage pine trees. Their population tends to swell every ten to fifteen years, but this year the beetles have an extra advantage as trees have been weakened by last year's drought. A warmer than average winter also allowed more of the beetles to survive.
Dana Stone is the Forest Health Coordinator for the Alabama Forestry Commission. She explains how exactly the beetles damage trees.
“It’s a very small insect, maybe about the size of an ant. And when the tree is stressed, it releases a type of chemical in the sap that lets the pine beetle know it’s stressed. And the pine beetle will go to that tree and bore through the bark, and start to tunnel in the cambium layer.”
Alabama Forestry Commission officials are urging landowners to cut down any infested trees. The infestation can be controlled by cutting affected wood and laying it horizontally to confuse the beetles.