Originally created 06/20/02

Pine beetle infestation hits home



Several of Thurmond Lake's most scenic areas will be logged as part of an emergency response aimed at curbing one of the worst outbreaks of Southern pine beetle to hit east Georgia in decades.

"People will see the cuts going on, and it's not going to be pretty," said Jim Parker, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. "We want people to know it's being done due to infestation - not just haphazard cutting."

The pine beetle attacks all species of Southern yellow pine and is particularly lethal to mature stands of timber in areas where trees have been weakened as a result of drought.

Pine trees are killed when thousands of adult beetles bore through the bark and construct "galleries" in the moist layer of wood underneath the bark, where eggs are laid. Such galleries girdle the trees, causing dehydration and death.

Mr. Parker said a recent aerial survey documented 350 outbreaks of pine beetle infestation along 76,000 acres surrounding Thurmond Lake and other management tracts. Fewer than 75 sites are found in a typical year.

Accepted control methods are to harvest infected trees to curb spreading, or to simply cut down infected trees in small areas.

Mr. Parker said six sites are earmarked for logging. The sites, ranging from one acre to 35 acres in size, are within the Lake Springs and Cherokee recreation areas and Bussey Point Management Area.

The outbreak along Thurmond Lake is part of a broader pine beetle problem that is spreading across Georgia - in particular affecting private land in Columbia and McDuffie Counties.

"They can overtake 100 acres in nothing flat," said Terry Price, an entomologist and associate forestry management chief for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

A flyover two weeks ago found 70 infested sites in Columbia County and 38 more in McDuffie County. "These were all on privately held lands," he said.

The beetles also are eating their way across north Georgia forests, where 330 hot spots were found in Rabun County alone, he said.

The cyclic outbreaks of pine beetles can be made even worse by drought, which has persisted in Georgia for three years.

"Every five to 10 years a major beetle outbreak occurs in the South, and it's time for it again," he said. "We'll have to ride this thing out and hope for more rainfall later in the year."

South Carolina also is fighting a beetle battle, with outbreaks in 21 counties that have caused an estimated $50 million in damages so far this year.

The beetles are so destructive they are recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a casualty, meaning landowners who are forced to cut infected timber can qualify for tax breaks on their federal income tax, Mr. Price said.

Information on such deductions can be accessed by contacting the IRS at (800) TAX-FORM or (800) 829-3676 and requesting publication No. 547.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119, or rpavey@augustachronicle.com.