Threat of pine beetle infestation has Oklahoma offering US$40-$60/acre in three counties for forest thinning

OKLAHOMA CITY , September 20, 2011 (press release) – Oklahoma's more than 600,000 acres of pine forests could face the threat of pine beetles this year.

The southern pine beetle usually is spotted in 10-year cycles and it's been about a decade since the beetles were last seen in the state's forests, The Oklahoman (http://bit.ly/p0YrUy) reported Monday.

A painful drought has already thinned many forests, and some say a pine beetle infestation could be devastating. So officials are pushing landowners to prepare now.

"We're due for an infestation," said Brian Hall, a staff protection forester at the Oklahoma Forestry Services. "So instead of just waiting, we're trying to be proactive so it's not so devastating."

The state is offering $40 to $60 an acre in Le Flore, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties to thin their forests. Cutting down weaker trees allows more room for trees that are more likely to survive.

"Once you thin out the forest, you give more opportunity for other trees to grow healthier. And in the long run, it can help wildfire conditions," Hall said.

Landowners elsewhere could also be eligible later this year.

Other kinds of beetles, such as the walnut twig beetle that comes into western Oklahoma from Colorado, also pose a threat to the state's forests. But the southern pine beetle is the most immediate danger to forests in southeastern Oklahoma.

"You will see death and mortality of trees, up to one tree a day once the beetles get their foothold in a forest," Hall said.

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