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East Hampton’s first pine beetle infestation fells 800 trees

The southern pine beetle has been discovered in

The southern pine beetle has been discovered in East Hampton Town for the first time and has infested hundreds of trees. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Region 8 / Bugwood.org

The southern pine beetle that has decimated thousands of trees around Long Island has hit East Hampton Town for the first time, forcing officials to plan to cut down 800 infested trees.

The pine beetle has been found in 6.5 acres of town property off Swamp Road about two miles north of the East Hampton Airport, and in other isolated sections of the Northwest Woods neighborhood, town officials said.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said the infestation makes the pitch pine trees look like they’ve been wrapped in beige chewing gum.

“This is worrisome,” Overby said. “It will eventually kill them.”

Town environmental analysts Andrew Drake and Andrew Gaites discovered the infestation a few weeks ago while surveying land, officials said. Town officials said they are applying for a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation grant to cover the estimated $80,000 cost of killing beetles by cutting down trees to expose the pests to the cold. The board also approved contributing $16,000 to the effort on Oct. 10.

But the number of pine beetles could increase by the time the trees are cut in January because they are active in temperatures above 45 degrees, said John Wernet, a DEC forester.

“They’re always moving,” Wernet said, noting the agency has spent $2 million this year alone in New York State to limit the northern spread, which has been exacerbated by climate change.

Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said the infestation has already increased within the past two weeks, making him concerned “we’re going to lose most, if not all, of the trees eventually” in areas of Northwest Woods.

“It’s probably unstoppable, but we’re going to make an effort as best we can,” he said.

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