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Pine Beetles Causing Millions of Dollars in Damage to Timber Industry

June 22, 1995

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) _ Southern pine beetles are back with a vengeance, destroying millions of dollars worth of timber as they strip trees of their water and nutrients.

``Timber amounting to approximately $14 million has already been killed this year in 17 counties,″ said Alan Alexander, spokesman for the state Forestry Commission.

The last severe pine beetle outbreak came in the 1970s, when the insects destroyed $25 million worth of timber. Dry weather earlier this spring made the timberlands vulnerable to infestation.

Besides South Carolina, there have been severe infestations in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida, said Wesley Nettleton, an entomologist with the U.S. Forestry Service in Atlanta.

``The beetles have caused at least $50 million of damage in southwestern Mississippi,″ Nettleton said. ``The damage done in South Carolina is the second worst so far, but they are just getting started.″

Pine beetles, about half the size of a rice grain, can kill any size tree in less than a week. The first signs of attack _ reddish-brown needles and patches on the trunk about the size of a popped kernel of corn _ come after the tree is already dead, Alexander said.

Nettleton said scientists are working on synthetically reproducing one of the beetles’ pheromones that repels them from pines, but mass production at least two years away.

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