Dendroctonus frontalis, the southern pine beetle. (Erich G. Vallery/Creative Commons)
Home / Environment / Pine Beetle Infestation Temporarily Closes San Felasco Trail

Pine Beetle Infestation Temporarily Closes San Felasco Trail

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The Florida Park Service plans to close the blue hiking trail in San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park some time later this month to remedy an infestation of southern pine beetles, park manager Robert Steele said.

Park staff conducting gopher tortoise surveys about two weeks ago noticed an area of decaying trees near the blue hiking trail, Steele said. State agencies investigated the area and found the tress were infested with beetles.

The beetles can kill acres of pine trees, said Dan Pearson, a Park Service biologist. Optimal weather conditions and stressed trees can trigger an outbreak, he said. The beetles are attracted to trees leaking sap, which indicates the trees are stressed or weak.

Steele said this problem is easier to fix in the winter. Usually the outbreaks spread rapidly in the spring and summer.

“Pine beetles didn’t used to be in Florida,” Pearson said. “In the mid-’90s, Alachua County experienced its first outbreak of southern pine beetles.”

In San Felasco, 200 acres of trees were cut during those first outbreaks, Pearson said.

The beetles target the weakest trees, drill through the bark and lay eggs in egg chambers, he said. After all the eggs hatch, the beetles drill their way out, fly to surrounding trees and repeat the process. The beetles also carry a fungus that can starve and dehydrate trees.

“The trees often die from the fungus infection, not just the damage from the beetle,” Pearson said.

The loblolly pines are the main reason for these outbreaks, he said. They are more susceptible to beetle infestations because they produce small amounts of resin, which is the one defense the trees have against the beetles.

“This outbreak is a symptom of changes in Alachua County,” Pearson said.

Map of San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park showing trail closures during the logging process. Alternate routes are highlighted and trails should reopen in six to eight weeks.

Historically, the most common pine tree in North Florida was the longleaf pine, he said. These trees produce enough resin to defend themselves from pine beetles.

The logging of longleaf pines in San Felasco during the 1930s created an opening for loblolly pines to take over. Loblolly pines are native trees, but native to wetland areas, Pearson said.

After the infested trees are removed, longleaf pines will be planted in their place.

The blue hiking trail will be closed during the logging process and the yellow trail will remain open. An alternative route will be available where the blue and yellow trails come together, Steele said. The trail will be closed for about six to eight weeks. Maps and signs at the park will note the trail changes.

Gainesville resident Hannah Stahmer walks her dog through the San Felasco trails every weekend.

“I come out here once a week with my dog, Little Bit,” said Stahmer, who has personal experience with the beetles. “I had to take down about nine trees from a pine beetle outbreak in the late ’90s,” she said. “I have a tiny yard so I didn’t have to replace them.”

Gainesville resident Hannah Stahmer walks her dog, Little Bit, through San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park on a Saturday morning. The park will close the blue trail while logging trees to prevent the spread of pine beetles. (Ellen Andreu/WUFT News)

“My neighbor came over and said I had a lot of dead trees. You could see they were dying from the top and there was sap running down the trees,” Stahmer said.

Pest control came out and sprayed, but she still ended up having to remove most of her trees. It cost her between $300 and $800 per tree, she said.

The latest outbreak in her neighborhood, Spring Tree, was last summer.

Stahmer said she was sad to hear the park is closing the blue trail, but happy that the restoration process can start soon afterward.

This story emerged from an audience question. Submit your curiosities for Untold Florida, and we’ll find the answer. Preference is given to those who include their first name and city.

About Ellen Andreu

Ellen is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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  • Tom M Culhane

    I was riding my bicycle into O’leno State Park about 10 years back and was surprised to see a logging truck leaving carrying a gigantic tree trunk. Then I saw signs upon entering the park that there was a “southern pine beetle outbreak” there and so they needed to remove some trees. But it seemed VERY suspicious to me that they’d be cutting gigantic old growth trees to save them.
    I just did a little research and learned that the native long leaf pines are normally resistant to pine beetles and so, given that that huge tree I saw would have probably been long leaf to be that old, I now am pretty sure there was some kind of scam going on there at O’leno, logging healthy old growth trees under the guise of protecting them. Old growth heartwood is very expensive. I now regret I didn’t call someone to report that when it was happening. People. be alert for these kinds of scams in your areas.