Pine Beetle Now Said to Infest 7,700 Trees

Pests on 300 acres from Northwest to Wainscott
The problem has spread across 300 acres, with 7,720 infested trees found to date on both public and private land. Over 5,000 have been cut down, with the remainder marked for imminent takedown. David E. Rattray

An infestation of southern pine beetles in the forests and backyards of East Hampton has exploded since October, but efforts to fell infested trees and prevent beetles from spreading outside of hot zones are working, a land management staffer told the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday. 

“It's been growing, but we're trying to stay on top of it,” Andy Drake of the town's Department of Land Management told the town board on Tuesday. “The majority of our native pitch pine trees are infested.”

The problem has spread across 300 acres, with 7,720 infested trees found to date on both public and private land. Over 5,000 have been cut down, with the remainder marked for imminent takedown. 

About 800 trees on 61/2 acres of town land had been found to be infested with pine beetles when Mr. Drake first reported the problem to the board in early October; six days later, working with staff from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the town discovered that 1,686 trees were infested. The problem had “more than doubled,” said Mr. Drake, and continued to grow. 

Originally, the beetles were largely in the Northwest area of East Hampton, but several infestations have been found in Wainscott. Almost 100 trees were taken down on Wainscott-Northwest Road, Mr. Drake said — an “edge” zone, where it is hoped tree cutting will stop the spread — and six trees on Daniel's Hole Road were felled.

Pine beetles left unchecked will reproduce inside an infested tree, resulting in a tenfold increase in their numbers the following season, Mr. Drake said. Taking down the trees and opening the bark, exposing the beetles, which don't fly far, results in a population the next spring of only 5 to 10 percent of the original numbers, said Mr. Drake. Data collected over several years in Southampton bear out the results. 

The D.E.C. recommends the “cut and leave suppression” method to prevent the pine beetles from spreading. It has been successful in other areas of Long Island, Mr. Drake said.

Four tree-cutting crews — private companies contracted by the town under a state of emergency declared last month because of the growing infestation — were out in the field continuing that effort, he said. The cut trees are being limbed to lay flat on the ground and are left in place.

“We really feel, at this point, that we’re getting it contained; we're getting ahead of it,” he said. “We can be done with this within the next few weeks; I believe we will be.”

His department has been fielding “hundreds of phone calls from private landowners,” said Mr. Drake. Those who suspect they have pine beetles on their property, or who want it checked, may call the land department and staffers will inspect.

Under the state of emergency, the town can, if authorized by property owners, have infested trees on private land cut down, and will bear the cost of cutting them down. The logs will be left on site according to the D.E.C. practice. The town is not paying to have them removed.