An infestation of southern pine beetle in East Hampton Town has swelled sixfold, ravaging more than 5,000 trees as officials have declared a state of emergency to fight it.
Town officials said the cost of identifying and cutting down infected trees could reach $160,000. The town has spent half that amount in three months of implementing the state of emergency.
More than 1,000 trees have already been cut down to prevent a further spread, in a method approved by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Cutting down the trees leads to the death of the beetles infecting them.
“It’s just devastating,” Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. “It looks like someone went in and almost clear-cut some of these parcels.”
Town officials initially found 800 infested trees in a 6.5-acre section of the Northwest Woods neighborhood at the end of September, said Andrew Gaites, the town’s senior environmental analyst. The pine beetle infestation has since spread to other areas, including parts of Wainscott.
Cantwell first declared a five-day state of emergency on Oct. 26 to open up funding. It was extended by 30 days, and Cantwell said he plans to extend it by another month.
The main cost for the town has been hiring three subcontractors to help flag and cut down trees, including Michael Clark, Jody Ewing Tree Care and Remy Tree Inc., Gaites said.
Workers have cut down 600 trees just on private property and inspected more than 150 private properties with owners’ signed permission at no cost to them, Gaites said. But they have had to leave felled trees in place rather than remove them because of limited resources.
“Of course people would like us to pay for removal as well, but it’s a very costly process already and what we’re doing is sufficient for suppression,” Gaites said last week.
Town officials have waived the fee for taking felled trees to the recycling center.
Susan Metzger said she cannot afford to remove the 80-foot-tall felled trees around the Swamp Road house in Northwest Woods she has owned for about 15 years. The woodland property, which she had nicknamed “A Thousand Pines,” now looks like a “vast wasteland.”
“I feel exposed,” said Metzger, an artist in her 70s. “It’s really heartbreaking.”
Officials ask property owners who suspect they have infested trees to contact the land management department at 631-324-7420.