Pine beetle infestation promps North Georgia forest thinning

The U.S. Forest Service is targeting a large portion of North Georgia forest to combat the infestation of the destructive Southern pine beetle.

Loggers will likely thin 1,500 acres of mostly pine trees as part of the Armuchee Healthy Forest Project. Large tracts of National Forest land in Floyd, Chattooga, Walker and Whitfield counties are targeted.

The pine beetle is considered the most harmful native insect for Southern timber. About the size of a grain of rice, the beetle gets underneath the bark and chokes off a tree’s nourishment. And, due partly to climate change, pine beetle outbreaks have become more frequent over the last 40 years.

Thinning is scheduled to begin in 2017 and last three to five years. Most of the pine targeted for thinning is “over-stocked” and has been planted since 1970. More indigenous oaks or pines will be replanted on site.

Environmental groups largely support the thinning.

“This project is a good example of treatments being targeted at the right stands,” said Jess Riddle, an ecologist with Georgia ForestWatch.

While public input is being solicited through May 31, the Forest Service will make a final decision without environmental review.

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