2014: Forest Health Year-In-Review

by | Dec 31, 2014

20141205_InvasivesFirewood~smallThe beauty and productivity of North Carolina’s forests have historically been challenged by a variety of threats.  Healthy forests are generally accustomed to pests and conditions that are native to the area where they grow. Outbreaks of common pests may occur periodically and cause a great deal of damage; but, for the most part, forests are resilient and outbreaks eventually subside. Lets take a look at a few of the threats to North Carolina’s forest lands.

EXOTIC INVASIVE PESTS. Newly introduced pests, on the other hand, can have devastating impacts on the forests of our state as trees may be lacking defense responses necessary to repel attacks from new threats. In the past several years, three non-native invasive species were detected for the first time in the state: laurel wilt (2011), thousand cankers disease of walnuts (2012), and emerald ash borer (2013).  In 2014, none of these were detected in new counties, although their range within already infested counties did expand. All three of these threats can be accelerated by the movement of firewood.

BARK BEETLES. The southern pine beetle is a native beetle that, historically, has been North Carolina’s most significant forest insect pest. From 1999 through 2002, the beetle killed at least $84 million worth of timber in North Carolina. Most of the mortality during that outbreak was in the mountains and western piedmont areas. Since then, beetle activity has been relatively low and there were no reports of southern pine beetle activity on state or private forest lands in 2014. While this pest is currently having a minimal impact on North Carolina’s pine trees, prevention efforts remain important because the insect periodically increases to epidemic proportions. Statewide in 2014, Ips engraver beetles were a major concern, with higher activity than was seen in recent years.  This sudden spike in activity could be due to the high number of trees damaged by two ice storms in early 2014.  Damaged trees are more susceptible to attack by secondary bark beetles, especially engraver beetles. Black turpentine beetle activity continued to be of concern, but were relatively low and constant from previous years.

GYPSY MOTH. The entire state has been monitored for gypsy moth since 1982 through an effort of the Plant Industry Division with assistance from the N.C. Forest Service. The 2014 trapping season is complete and 757 moths were captured in 348 traps.  This is higher than in 2013, when positive trap captures totaled 431 moths in 247 traps.  These trap captures, along with egg mass surveys to be conducted this winter, will play a role in the determination of treatments that will be done in 2015.  Treated areas in 2014 (based on 2013 trap catches) included 1,804 acres in northwest Warren County, 174 acres in western Rockingham County, and 517 acres in northern Rockingham County.

The gypsy moth has been held at bay from becoming established in North Carolina, with only two counties being quarantined for the pest since 1988 (Currituck County and parts of Dare County).  These counties remain the only two with a gypsy moth quarantine in place.

STORM DAMAGE.  In early 2014, two ice storms and a series of tornadoes affected N.C.’s forested lands. Based on post-storm aerial surveys, the long-term impact on forest health is likely minimal, but some landowners experienced localized severe damage.  In many cases, young trees leaning under the weight of ice returned to their upright position. The most significant damage is likely the increase in secondary pests following storm events of this nature.  In accordance and as previously mentioned, reports of Ips engraver beetles were abnormally high in 2014.