Trees are dying. The question is, why? Although the rainfall during December and January relieved much of the drought and related wildfire issues in Alabama, the harmful effects and complications associated with drought continue to plague the state’s forestlands. While exact economic impacts are unknown at this time, the losses may be significant according to forestry professionals with the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC).
“Some trees typically die immediately following an extended period of drought such as we experienced last fall, particularly smaller seedlings and saplings,” said AFC Forester/Forest Health Coordinator Dana Stone. “The most damaging results, however, may take longer to emerge,” she continued. “Drought-stressed trees can be weakened, causing them to be more susceptible to insects and diseases. These symptoms of long-term injury are just now appearing, especially in our state’s pine forests.”
Forest landowners began reporting the decline of hardwood trees as a direct result of the drought as early as late summer. Recently, calls to the agency have increased regarding pine trees. Pines of various ages and sizes are dying, from seedlings to mature trees. Most of the affected pines have brown needles and pitch tubes, indicating bark beetle infestation. AFC foresters have inspected numerous spots, and the trees appear to be dying from a range of pests, including Southern pine beetle, Ips engraver beetle, and black turpentine beetle, or a combination of all three. In some instances, the deodar weevil was also present in beetle-infested pines. These insects generally infect the pines with associated fungi causing the trees to die more quickly.
“The Alabama Forestry Commission continues to conduct aerial surveys to assess beetle activity across the state,” said Interim State Forester Gary Cole, “but landowners need to understand the seriousness of this situation. To ensure the overall health of their forest stand, they should monitor their property for signs of damage and contact their local AFC office or registered forester for management recommendations before taking any action.”
The Alabama Forestry Commission is the state agency charged with protecting and sustaining Alabama’s forest resources using professionally applied stewardship principals and education, ensuring that the state’s forests contribute to abundant timber and wildlife, clean air and water, and a healthy economy. To learn more about drought-related pests or to locate the nearest AFC office, visit www.forestry.alabama.gov.