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Southern pine beetle found in Nassau for first time after destroying thousands of trees in Suffolk

A pitch pine tree at the Wertheim National

A pitch pine tree at the Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in Shirley on Oct. 29, 2014 shows pitch tubes, or nodes of tree sap, which is a sign of the presence of the Southern Pine Beetle. The beetle species burrows into the bark and can be seen as the small black speck on top of the sap. Photo Credit: Daniel Brennan

A beetle responsible for the death of thousands of pine trees across Suffolk now has been confirmed for the first time in Nassau, state officials said.

The southern pine beetle, discovered on Long Island last year, until recently only had been spotted in pine forests in Suffolk County. But state officials said Thursday the beetle was found in a tree in Bethpage State Park. That tree, a pitch pine, was cut down and removed, along with 118 other infested trees in Belmont Lake State Park in North Babylon, Brookhaven State Park in Wading River and Heckscher State Park in East Islip, as well as Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River, said Randy Simons, spokesman for New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation said it was the first confirmed instance of the beetle in Nassau County.

"As a result of this detection, DEC considers the park a high priority area and is working with state parks staff to conduct an inventory to determine if the southern pine beetle has spread," DEC spokesman Peter Constantakes said, although he added the discovery in Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale was "not surprising."

"Based on the history of southern pine beetle infestations in other states, DEC knows that controlling this destructive insect is a major challenge," he said.

The beetle, native to the Southern United States and considered one of the most destructive forest pests in the country, has left officials scrambling to keep ahead of the infestation on Long Island -- especially in the region's pine barrens.

Thousands of infested trees on federal, state and other lands across Suffolk County have been cut down in an effort to stanch the spread of the pest. Cutting trees is considered the most effective method of addressing the problem.

The news of the beetle's spread into Nassau comes as forestry experts from across the East Coast are set to arrive here Monday to map out the area's forests most at risk from the beetle.

State Department of Environmental Conservation foresters plan to first target the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest, a 5,700-acre preserve identified by the state agency as having a "potential for a large-scale outbreak" of the beetle.

The team will create a map of the areas in that preserve most at risk before branching out to other state-owned forests on Long Island to conduct surveillance work, according to the agency.

The group will be joined by a team from the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Commission, made up of educators from Maine, Massachusetts, Virginia and Canada who will work with local agencies on teaching the public about the beetle, according to the DEC.

"DEC forestry experts are working closely with state, local and federal experts to manage and mitigate the impacts of this threat, and protect the critical natural resources that are so important to the ecology of Long Island," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Assemb. Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) wrote to the DEC last Tuesday, urging it to create a program to help private property owners cut down infested trees on their land.

"Without a comprehensive management and control program on both public and private lands, efforts will not be successful" against the beetle, Thiele wrote.

He suggested the state use the Landowner Incentive Program -- in which the state and private landowners team up to protect habitat -- or create a new program to assist property owners.

"Homeowners want to do the right thing, but removal of infected trees is an expensive undertaking with which they need financial assistance," he wrote.

A source said the DEC was reviewing Thiele's letter, but that the agency considers it unlikely that any funding could be provided through the program.


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