John Wernet, of the DEC, holds a piece of bark...

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 confounding fight against the southern pine beetle has taken another turn. The pests, which have killed thousands of pines across some 2,000 acres on Long Island, seem to have been stymied by state officials in a part of the pine barrens in Hampton Bays. But they were found in East Quogue in trees previously thought to be too small to attack, trees unscathed one month ago. Now at risk is a rare stand of dwarf pines in Westhampton.

The beetles must be contained, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation must be fully funded to carry out the task.

The DEC has calculated that a fair fight will cost $3.1 million in 2016. That includes the cost of cutting down infected trees, thinning healthy ones, and continued surveying, via increased DEC staff and/or contractors. And that annual cost must be borne indefinitely, because the beetles likely will not be eradicated, only controlled.

Failing to act decisively will have dire consequences. New Jersey's infestation was discovered in 2002. More than 50,000 acres of pine barrens there are now destroyed, an area equivalent to the entire core area of Long Island's pine barrens. Critics blame a response both slow and insufficient. Losing such a swath here would be catastrophic. The pine barrens sit atop and protect Long Island's purest groundwater. They provide habitat for the greatest diversity of plants and animals in the state. They increase property values, boost tourism and provide beauty.

No one disputes this is a crisis. Now everyone needs to act like it is. The DEC understands the problem. It knows what it needs to combat it. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo must find the money and empower the agency in a fight we simply cannot afford to lose.