Date of this Version
Fire Science Brief, Issue 97, March 2010
Southern pine beetles are a serious insect threat to pine forests in the South, from eastern Texas to Virginia. Beetles attack most pine species by boring through the bark of the tree and constructing long, winding tunnels between the bark and the wood, eventually girdling and killing the tree. They also introduce a fungus called “bluestain,” which further damages conductive systems of the tree. After an outbreak, the area of dead standing timber is usually no longer of commercial value. Forest managers are interested in reducing these fuel hot spots, both to allow forest regeneration and to reduce wildfire risk. Recent research evaluated the use of prescribed burns or mechanical mastication for this purpose. Researchers concluded that high-intensity prescribed burns in localized beetle-killed areas are practical and do effectively reduce fuel levels. Mastication results in initially higher woody fuel loads than either control areas or prescribed burn plots, but fuels quickly compact and decompose. Researchers felt that the best strategy is the use of high-intensity spring burns to reduce fuel loads and prepare the forest for regeneration. When done by trained professionals, these burns can readily be controlled.