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Southern pine beetle infests parts of Palm Valley in St. Johns County

5:35 PM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- The Southern Pine Beetle is a little bug, but it's a big problem.

The Florida native insect has popped up in St. Johns County near homes, especially in the Palm Valley area near Ponte Vedra Beach.

This kind of beetle attacks pines.

The Baer family used to have a lot of pine trees in the front and back yard. Now, it's open space.

Stumps dot the property.

Dale Bear had to chop down more than 40 trees on his 1 ½ acres in Palm Valley.

"The Southern Pine Beetle has infested this area," Baer looked around his yard.

The beetle is a fast moving critter that travels from tree to tree.

"They're about half the size of a grain of rice," Baer noted.

They're small, but they can quickly destroy 100-foot-tall pine trees.

"Just last week, we had a dead tree from our neighbor's property fall on our fence, which could've let all our animals out," Bear said of his goats and chickens.

Baer and his wife had to dip into their retirement fund to pay an arborist $10,000 to remove the beetle-ridden trees that were within striking range of his house.

"With hurricane season, you don't want a bunch of dead trees around," Baer said.

Baer and his neighbors are not the only ones the Southern Pine Beetle has attacked in the Palm Valley area.

Greg Dunn, Senior Forester for St. Johns County, pointed to a map showing "spots" where the southern pine beetle has killed trees.  Some areas are only a half acre in size. Others are about twenty acres.

The Florida Forestry Service surveyed trees from the sky and located dozens of acres that the Southern Pine Beetle has killed. The infected areas seem to be spread out.

"If this was just a 40 acre spot in the woods, it would be easy to get one logger in there and be done with it," Dunn said, "but when they're moved around like this, it makes it very difficult."

Dunn said this infestation started four years ago on conservation land where tree management could not take place and nothing could be done to that land to rid it of the Southern Pine Beetle.

The beetle is in and is close to residential areas, and some homeowners may not know they're under attack. So look for white or yellow sap spots on the bark.

"That's where the pine tree is trying to spit the beetles out," Dunn explained.

If you peel back the bark, you'll also see a lot of squiggly lines from the beetles.

"They just move around and feed on the tree under the bark," Dunn noted.

Lastly, look for sawdust at the tree's base.

Baer said, he "started seeing needles fall from the trees -- green and brown -- and they carpeted everything."

However, once the Southern Pine Beetle strikes, that tree is out, and Baer is concerned about other trees on his and near his property.

"We're not out of the woods yet," he said.

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