Northside Sun

Pine Beetle Issue Costly For Madison, Ridgeland And Others Affected

By Nell Luter Floyd

The city of Madison has spent about $80,000 cutting pine trees that pose a hazard along roadways, and that’s just a start.

“We’re looking at in excess of $1 million to remove all the dead trees that are a result of the drought,” said Pete Vozzo, senior director of operations for the city of Madison.

City of Madison employees have taken down pines damaged by the pine beetle infestation that target those weakened by flooding, windstorms and drought, and private contractors removed trees that are too big for city employees to safely handle, he said.

All 52 counties in the state have been affected by the drought and infestation of pine beetle, according to Mississippi Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Andy Gipson.

So far, there is no state or federal funding so that municipalities can recoup what they’ve spent.

“Our mayor is working with Cindy Hyde-Smith and others in Congress to find funding or create funding to assist with this problem,” Vozzo said.

The city of Ridgeland anticipates the overall cost of removing hardwood trees and pines damaged by drought and pine beetle will be $650,000, said Ridgeland Mayor Gene McGee.

“Beginning in the spring, both parks and public works staff began flagging the dead trees on city property,” he said. “We quickly realized the severity of the widespread tree death, which led to us hiring a consultant to perform a city-wide assessment. The consultant performed a windshield survey of the city to determine the amount of dead and dying trees on public property and within city rights-of-way, and our consultant determined that number to be around 1,200. The majority of those trees are pine trees but we have many dead hardwoods as well. 

That number does include trees that fall within the Natchez Trace Parkway and Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, he said.

The city of Ridgeland has begun cutting trees utilizing both city crews as well as private companies, he said.

“I do not have an exact count of how many trees the city has removed to date but I do know we have a lot of work to do to remove the remaining dead trees,” McGee said.

The Pearl River Valley Water Supply District has cut about 800 pine trees damaged by pine beetle and expects that number to double, said John Sigman, general manager of the district, which is the state agency responsible for managing the 33,000-acre Barnett Reservoir and the 17,000 acres surrounding the lake, 12,000 of which are forest land.

“We’re going to spend $400,000 to $500,000,” he said. “I don’t know of any relief program in place to reimburse us for that.”

There is no program that will repay homeowners or municipalities for the costs of cutting trees dead from the pine beetle infestation, said Garron Hicks, assistant forest management chief and forest health coordinator for the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

There is a program for private, non-industrial landowners that offsets some of the costs of cutting trees, he said.

The threat posed by the pine beetle is not gone but it has calmed down some, Hicks said. “We’re not in the drought situation like we were before,” he said. 

Landowners and homeowners still need to keep an eye out for signs of infestation.

The first visible sign is typically the yellowing or browning of needles. Additionally, the trunk may exhibit white, yellow or red-brown pitch tubes, approximately the size of a wad of gum. During droughts, pitch tubes may be very small or absent. Removing the bark will expose the distinctive winding “S” shaped gallery pattern

“We’re still seeing beetle activity, but it is not as rampant as it was,” Hicks said. “That can change depending upon if we get back in a drought pattern. If we stay in a normal weather pattern where we’re getting rain, we should start to see it taper off.”

Three kinds of pine beetles, the southern pine beetle, the Ips beetle and the black turpentine beetle, have caused havoc.

“The southern pine beetle and the Ips beetle are small,” said Hicks, a graduate of Louisiana Tech University where he majored in forestry. “The southern pine beetle is a little bigger than a pencil lead. They’re teeny tiny.”

The beetles attack a tree by boring into the bark and laying larvae. “They get in behind the bark in the cambium layer of the tree, which is the part that uptakes the water, and disturb that flow and the tree dies,” Hicks said.

By the time a homeowner notices a tree has turned brown, the damage is done and often the best way to deal with the infestation is to cut down the tree, he said. A tree that is dead starts to rot and becomes a hazard because a storm can cause it to fall on a nearby structure.

Hicks said it is a good idea for those who notice pine trees dying on their property to have them removed and then study any living pine trees for evidence of the beetles.

“You’ll see boring dust on the bark and pitch tubes,” he said. “That’s the beetles’ defense mechanism to extrude out of the holes they bore. You’ll see white pockets of sap that have dried.”

The Mississippi Forestry Commission can help, Hicks said. Area foresters from the commission go out and provide homeowners and landowners with free help identifying problems and providing recommendations.