By: Danielle O’Dell, Wildlife Research Ecologist

Staff from the Ecological Research, Restoration and Stewardship Department at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation (NCF) have 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 US and 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, NY 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 NY 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.

On Friday, July 7, Danielle O’Dell, Wildlife Research Ecologist at the Nantucket Conservation Foundation, arrived at the West Gate entrance to Ram Pasture to find a large swath of dead and dying pitch pine trees in a stand locally referred to as Marvin’s Woods. The trees all displayed symptoms of southern pine beetle infestation. NCF immediately contacted Nicole Keleher, Forest Health Program Director at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (MA DCR), who visited the infected stand on Tuesday, July 11. Ms. Keleher confirmed southern pine beetle as the cause of tree mortality by observing bark damage patterns and collecting insect specimens from infested trees. Other nearby pine forests were searched for signs of infestation. As of now, it appears that the outbreak is contained to this one small 13-acre pine stand.

“We are actively collaborating with our partners at MA DCR to plan for suppression management of this recently detected outbreak at the West Gate Woods,” said Danielle O’Dell. “We have also been working closely for some time with our island conservation partners at the Nantucket Islands Land Bank, Linda Loring Nature Foundation, and Mass Audubon to monitor for signs of an infestation and lay the groundwork for developing proactive forest health management plans to reduce the likelihood of future southern pine beetle infestations.”

Although no detailed plans have yet been developed, suppression efforts at this site may include cutting of infested trees, understory thinning, and extensive trapping of beetles. Due to the presence of known maternity roosts of Federally Endangered Northern long-eared bats (Myotis septentrionalis) in the area, federal regulations do not allow tree cutting until after the breeding season. While plans are being developed, NCF’s Ecology staff will be regularly monitoring this area and nearby pine stands and undertaking drone surveillance to identify additional trees that may become infested.

“Based on results of aerial, ground, and pheromone trapping surveys completed this spring and early summer, we believe the southern pine beetle outbreak to currently be isolated to this pitch pine stand,” said Nicole Keleher. “However, other pitch pines may be susceptible to future attack by the beetle. We encourage 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 pine habitat.”

Aerial image of mortality of pitch pine (PInus rigida) at West Gate entrance to Ram Pasture on Nantucket caused by an infestation of southern pine beetles in July of 2023

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
Pine trees with brown or reddened needles should be checked for small “popcorn-shaped” resin masses between bark pieces

NCF Ecologists are encouraging the public to report any trees showing these symptoms immediately to Please include GPS coordinates, specific directions, and a photo if possible.

More information on the ecology and signs of southern pine beetle – presentation by Nicole Keleher for Linda Loring Nature Foundation’s Science Pub series:

MA DCR Forest Health Program Storyboard on southern pine beetle:

About the Nantucket Conservation Foundation: Founded in 1963, The mission of the Nantucket Conservation Foundation is to assist in the preservation of Nantucket’s character by permanently conserving, maintaining, and managing natural areas and habitats and to encourage an appreciation of and interest in the Island’s natural resources. For more information visit