By Sara Tewksbury
The northern long-eared bat, a threatened species that raises their pups on Long Island in the summer, is at risk by the growing infestation of the southern pine beetle, experts say.
The efforts to control the plague, which involve cutting down trees during the summer, may jeopardize the bats’ roosting areas. The DEC will be closely monitoring the areas, authorities said.
“In the short term, the death of the trees that the pine beetles infest would cause an increase in trees for the northern long-eared bats to roost,” Alex Silvis, a research assistant in the department of fish and wildlife conservation at Virginia Tech, said. “In the longer term, as all of those trees fall out, there would be a shortage of trees for roosting,” Silvis said. The bat’s favorite place to roost is the crevices of dead trees, Silvis said.
The southern pine beetle is one of the deadliest tree-killing insects in the country and has already decimated thousands of trees on Long Island. It uses a pheromone to attract thousands of southern pine beetles to attack the same tree.
“Once the beetle attacks a tree, the tree is doomed, even though it might not look sick at that point, it will be,” Claire Rutledge, from the Connecticut Agricultural Experimental Station said. The beetle burrows into the tree to lay its eggs and brings the blue stain fungus on it’s back, which both act to kill the tree in a matter of months.
Rutledge says the outbreak of the southern pine beetle has reached a state where the vast population allows the beetles to attack healthy trees, not just stressed trees. Although the main target of the beetle is pitch pines, when the population reaches such high numbers, other species start getting attacked as well.
As early as in May 2015, U.S. Fish and Wildlife listed the northern long-eared bat as threatened. This means that they need to be protected wherever they are found.
The most effective method to slow down the infestation is “cutting infested trees and thinning surrounding forest areas,” the DEC website states. In the summer, the insects don’t fly very far so if you thin the forest, attacking trees becomes harder, Rutledge said.
“It’s going to cost a lot of money to pay someone to do this,” John Wernet, the forester for the DEC on Long Island, said. In January, the New York DEC tried having a timber sale, where a private contractor could make a bid to pay to harvest about 56 acres of the Rocky Point Pine Barrens State Forest. But there were no bids for the timber sale.
Over 8,000 trees have already been cut on Long Island to suppress the infestation. The areas that have been treated have been “a stellar success,” Wernet said. The areas that were not treated because they were on private property have had a tenfold expansion of the infestation in one year.
The forests as the public knows them, are at risk if the infestation continues to spread.
“It’s becoming a different place very quickly,” said Ayres.