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Strengthen war on pine 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

The parameters of the southern pine beetle war are clear.

First, the fight will never end. Once the beetles have infested an area, as they have the pine barrens, they cannot be eradicated, only managed. That means taking down infested trees and those around them. Second, state officials lack the resources for a full frontal assault. Third, the stakes are enormous. New Jersey has lost more than 50,000 acres of its pine barrens to an infestation discovered in 2002; critics blame a response that was slow and insufficient.

A similar loss would be devastating on Long Island, where pine beetles have been found on more than 2,500 acres. More than 8,000 trees have been taken down so far, but many more must be felled. The pine barrens is critical habitat for many plant and animal species, and integral to the region’s economy and identity. Trees also protect the aquifer that is our only source of drinking water. We have to get this right.

That means giving the Department of Environmental Conservation what it needs to make this a fair fight. State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assembs. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor) are asking that $3.5 million be added to the budget to fight the beetles. That’s the right call; the threat posed by the beetles demands our best attempts at eradication.

That’s better than a DEC pilot project to let private loggers harvest trees a company could sell for a profit. It was considered a way to thin a forest in Rocky Point that included oaks and reduce the risk of infestation in a tract with no beetles. Yet, no one bid on the contract. The DEC should take that as a sign, abandon the idea, and focus directly on the beetle problem. And the governor and legislature should support the agency fully in that effort. — The editorial board


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