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Inject urgency into fight to save trees from beetles

John Wernet, of the DEC, holds a piece

John Wernet, of the DEC, holds a piece of bark that has a southern pine beetle attached in Hampton Bays, Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2014. Credit: Randee Daddona

There is no mystery about how best to fight a southern pine beetle infestation. It requires a constant and full-bore effort of taking down both infected trees and those nearby. The mystery is why state officials have yet to do that on Long Island.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has calculated the cost of a fair fight at around $3 million a year. The work is best done in winter, when the beetles are dormant, and it must be done constantly because once pine beetles have arrived they cannot be eradicated. But this is the third winter since they were discovered here and such an effort has yet to be mounted.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo made a commitment in his 2017-18 State of the State proposal to spend $3 million on the infestation. We welcome that pledge. But the same amount should be spent this winter, and money is available. The need for urgency can be seen in New Jersey, which lost more than 50,000 acres of pine barrens after a slow response to its infestation. That’s about half the size of Long Island’s pine barrens.

We’re encouraged by one emerging idea to sign standby contracts with professional sawyers who can swing into action immediately as needed. Excessive bureaucracy kills more trees. But other steps being touted — including an experiment using federal money to thin a portion of Rocky Point forest to see whether that will prevent an infestation, and some $500,000 in grants to local communities to reimburse them for taking down trees — make sense only if they’re complementing a full suppression effort.

That’s been the right call all along. It’s past time to make it.

— The editorial board


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