The war against the southern pine beetle rages on. State and federal officials have taken down thousands of pine trees in Suffolk, but new infestations are cropping up -- most notably, the first infected tree discovered in Nassau County, in Bethpage State Park. That's just the battle being waged on public land. Less publicized is what's taking place on private property, where many beleaguered homeowners can't affort to take down their infected trees.

Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) -- one of several East End and Brookhaven lawmakers getting calls from residents who can't afford to do the right thing -- asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to help defray expenses via a program that aids landowners with habitat management for endangered species. The out-of-the-box pitch, alas, was a non-starter. The program can't be used that way. But the DEC is responding to that desperation by seeking other funding sources for a cost-sharing program.

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It's also bringing in foresters from New York and beyond to help inventory trees and assess infestation risks, and educators from around the Northeast and Canada to help launch a public education campaign for homeowners. Those are good moves. But the war against the beetle will be much harder to win if the pest goes unchecked in our backyards. Ideas on how to pay for that part of the war are welcome.

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Our pine trees are a precious resource we can't afford to lose.