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Nov 10, 2000

Beetle threatens Pine Ridge

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It’s a tiny creature, but as we’ve already learned from mosquitoes and mealy bugs, when it comes to dangerous insects size does not matter. The latest pest to threaten Belize’s well being is called the Southern Bark Beetle and if left unchecked it could destroy one of our most popular recreation areas and most productive sources of lumber. Jose Sanchez has just returned from the field with the following report.

Nearly fifty percent of the pine trees in the Mountain Pine Ridge area are being attacked by the Southern Bark Beetle. Though pine trees take twenty to thirty-five years to reach maturity, this tiny bug, which grows no bigger than an ant, could in a few years lay waste to the entire reserve.

Earl Green, Technical Planning Co-ordinator

“This is a piece of bark that is showing signs of the farthest advancement in the infestation. What we see here is that the channels that the insects create in the bark. This tree shows signs that a pair, a male and female have mated.”

“If you look at this tree, there are no signs of any infestations. Looking up at the canopy, they are all bright green appearing to be healthy. If you come down here, this is a pitch tube. At this time it is completely white, which indicates that a female has just only penetrated the bark here.”

“But you also notice that here the pitch tube has now turned red. This indicates that a male has just now arrived and has begun to mate with the female.”

Jose Sanchez

“The beetle penetrates through the bark of the pine attempting to reach the tree’s food source. When it does that, it consumes the nutrients that the tree needs to survive, essentially starving the tree.”

Earl Green

“We are in the process of determining exactly how much of the reserve is actually infested. This beetle like other bark beetles are native to any pine forest and has been in Belize for hundreds of years as long as the pine forest has been around. There are periodic outbreaks that approach scales we can describe as epidemic. These outbreaks are the result of a combination of environmental and ecological factors. In this case it is the long sequence of dry months, warm temperatures and relatively high humidity that has caused the insect population to increase so rapidly.”

“There are some areas where the pine trees are more healthy. There are more distances between them; the stands are not as dense. In areas where the department was conducting civicultural treatments, which we call thinning, we have reduced the density of the stands, which encourage the trees to grow faster and cause them to be healthier. In those areas the trees are more resistant to attack.”

Jose Sanchez

“You said you had a thinning programme that seemed to have helped the trees, what happened to the programme?”

Earl Green

“Well thinning has been an activity conducted by the Forest Department for the past thirty or forty years, ever since management was introduced in it’s reserves. It was a few years ago that like most government departments, that the Forest Department suffered some cutbacks and the immediate effect was the reduction of our labor force. Of course that meant thinning programmes and things like that could not be continued.”

Though they may not possess the funds and equipment that would normally be required to manage a priceless reserve, the forest Department is executing a management plan to save the pine.

Hubert Arana, Forester

“The method we are using right now is to cut and salvage. We are identifying the direction in which the infection is heading, cut a buffer zone to actually disorient the insects from spreading. What happens is that the insects spread by a chemical that is released by the female, a pheromone, and that attracts other insects. By falling a buffer zone, that actually disorients the insects and avoids further spreading of the population.”

The insects cannot fly very far, so the department is heading them off by cutting trees sixty to eighty meters ahead of the pest.

Jose Sanchez

“When do you think this problem will be resolved?”

Hubert Arana

“Well, as we mentioned earlier, this is a problem we that don’t know how long to it will take to resolve. The bark beetle is native to this area; it’s just that the ideal conditions that has the population exploding. With this method that we are doing right now, if the weather continues favourably for them, to continue populating, then we expect it will take a longer time. However, if the weather comes in our favour, then I don’t expect it to be a long time to have this whole infestation under control.”

Jose Sanchez

“So a few months?”

Hubert Arana

“Yes, roughly you could say maybe six months.”

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

The thinning and clear-cutting of breaks is being carried out by Pine Lumber Company and the Wood Depot under the direction of the Forest Department. Both companies hold logging concessions in the reserve and will attempt to salvage as much timber as possible from the areas they are being asked to cut. The Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve covers approximately two hundred thousand acres, one hundred and ten thousand of which are covered with pine.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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