In July 2023, staff from NCF’s Ecological Research, Restoration and Stewardship Department confirmed the first detected infestation of southern pine beetle on Nantucket, located on NCF property at the West Gate entrance to Ram Pasture off Barrett Farm Road.
The southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis) is a tiny, blackish-brown bark beetle approximately one-eighth of an inch long. These beetles are native to the southern and southwestern United States. Historically, their range extended as far north as southern New Jersey. Due to the impacts of climate change, they have been moving northward into New York and New England. Southern pine beetles have caused extensive and rapid mortality of pitch pines (Pinus rigida) and Japanese black pines (Pinus thunbergii) on Long Island, New York since 2014. Outbreaks of southern pine beetles can very quickly overwhelm the defenses of healthy trees and cause widespread damage to pine forests.
Concern about the proximity of the outbreaks in New York prompted NCF and other conservation landowners on Nantucket to begin actively monitoring for this species on Nantucket in 2018. NCF staff have been active in regional southern pine beetle workshops and have developed partnerships with state and federal agencies and other conservation groups to prepare for potential outbreaks.
The infestation at West Gate was detected in early July 2023 by Danielle O’Dell, NCF Wildlife Research Ecologist. The large swath of dead and dying pitch pine trees in a stand locally referred to as Marvin’s Woods all displayed symptoms of southern pine beetle infestation. NCF immediately contacted Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation staff, who visited the infected stand and confirmed southern pine beetle as the cause of tree mortality. Other nearby pine forests are being monitored for signs of infestation. As of now, it appears that the outbreak is contained to this one small 13-acre pine stand.
Suppression efforts at the West Gate site began in early September 2023 following the development of a forestry plan and subsequent permitting process, including cutting of infested trees and understory thinning. Unfortunately, the original estimate of ~90 infested trees has increased to ~170 since detection. Suppression efforts are continuing, and the site will remain closed to the public until the work is completed.
Concurrently with this suppression effort, NCF has also been working closely with our island conservation partners at the Nantucket Islands Land Bank, Linda Loring Nature Foundation, and Mass Audubon to lay the groundwork for developing proactive forest health management plans to reduce the likelihood of future southern pine beetle infestations. These plans will contain recommendations for thinning overmature and crowded stands of trees to maximize sunlight and airflow within the forest, which will increase the health of the remaining trees and the overall ecosystem.
We are encouraging private landowners to periodically assess their pitch pine stands for signs of a southern pine beetle infestation. Early detection is vital in mitigating the threat, minimizing tree loss, and protecting our unique pitch pine habitats.
Signs of a southern pine beetle infestation include:
- Sudden reddening or browning of all needles.
- Pitch tubes or small ‘popcorn-shaped’ resin masses on the bark all the way up the tree.
- Scattered, tiny holes in the bark where beetles have entered or exited the tree.
- S-shaped trails or tunnels in the tissue of the tree underneath the bark.
NCF Ecologists are encouraging the public to report any trees showing these symptoms immediately to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include GPS coordinates, specific directions, and a photo if possible.