Battling Black Pine Consequences

Two-Pronged Topic Arises in Barnegat Light
By Maria Scandale | Nov 06, 2019
Photo by: Maria Scandale

Barnegat Light — Steven Fall of Barnegat Light Landscaping and Garden Center has been in town long enough to remember, as a kid, a relative in the Garden Club of Long Beach Island distributing black pine seedlings after the March Storm of 1962. The salt-tolerant trees did shore up the dunes for future years, but with some unintended consequences.

At a recent Barnegat Light Borough Council meeting, the invasive species arose in two topics – one in relation to their overgrowth on the dunes, and another as some residents complained about their neighbors’ dead pines from beetle infestation.

Fall is one landscaper who gets calls to trim back, or “top,” trees on the oceanfront dunes, a process that requires following guidelines set up by the municipality.

“A lot of people who have oceanfront homes here in Barnegat Light are having their views stolen by the black pines that have grown wild out in the dunes,” he said after the meeting.

Considered an invasive species, “where they’re growing out in the dunes, they’re choking out other indigenous plants, like the bayberries and the black cherries and Eastern red cedars and others,” Fall said.

“So, in order to be allowed to go out there on what is town-/state-owned property and cut them down, we have to submit a letter in the homeowner’s behalf – usually it is a group of homeowners – saying pine trees are affecting their views and ultimately affecting property values, and asking permission to cut them down.”

The process also includes getting approval from neighbors on either side of the stand of trees that will be topped. Contractors such as Fall or tree service professionals appear before the borough council, the public works superintendent inspects the site, “and we all have to be on the same page about all the trees that are going to get cut, and then I get to go out and not take them down entirely, but take them down low enough to give everybody their views back,” Fall summarized.

At the October borough council meeting, Barnegat Light Landscaping had gotten council’s tentative approval for an oceanfront plot between 21st and 22nd streets. The dunes of several-hundred-yards depth are unique to Barnegat Light.

“They’re not indigenous trees. Prior to 1963 there was not a single Japanese black pine on the Island,” Fall said. “The ladies of the Long Beach Island Garden Club brought in these tiny saplings right after the March Storm of 1962, and they started distributing them in 1963. They took over the Island, but now they’re being taken away by this infestation of beetles that are killing them.”

Bark beetles, notably three species of the Ips engraver beetle, are a different subject from topping healthy trees on the dunes. They have been causing calls to landscapers and keeping tree removal services very busy. Pest control companies have been advertising insecticide treatment plans for trees if treated early or preventively. (Call your choice of professionals for details.)

If the damage is done, the trees die quickly, Fall said, and the only option is to remove them.

Therein lies the source of neighbor complaints. “I’ve had customers offer to pay me to take down a neighbor’s tree,” Fall said. Of course, that can’t be done. In that case, when Fall knocked on the tree owner’s door, the homeowner laughed and said he would take care of it in his own time.

In some cases, homeowners who aren’t here year ’round don’t see the trees or are not considering dead tree removal an immediate priority. The browned pines stand in stark contrast to their evergreen intention.

“I don’t have to move from where I’m sitting; I can see a dead pine right there,” Fall pointed out from Barnegat Light Landscaping and Garden Center’s corner lot at 502 Broadway, which also backs up to towering old indigenous cedars and American holly.

“The tree services are going to be busy for the rest of their lives here,” Fall said, mentioning an associate who told him, ‘I’m doing 48 estimates today.’ That’s how much their phones are ringing.”

Fall added, “There is nothing you really can do once a tree is infested with the beetles. What is prescribed is to cut the tree down immediately and remove it from the property. As soon as you see it dying, and they die very quickly once the pine beetles have infested them, virtually within two to three weeks the entire tree is dead. And there are pockets of streets where they decimated every tree in the area.”

Depending on the size and the number of dead trees, Fall may choose to refer the problem to a tree service professional.

“I’m a fully licensed and insured contractor, but I tell people all the time when they call me and say, ‘I’ve got 15 dead black pines,’ I’m not really interested because that’s a lot of work, and I’m not in the tree business, but garden and general landscaping.”

However, topping the healthy trees on the dunes -- the other topic that came up at the town meeting – is another matter. With a pruning saw device, he can reach to the top of the 20-foot black pines like the ones about which he sought council approval, on borough- or state-owned dune property.

Fall pointed out a finished job a block away, between 20th and 21st streets. Bayberry was thriving several yards away from trimmed pines, which were serving a purpose as a windbreak and sand retention.

Garden Club

Current Advice

Separately last year, The SandPaper published information from the Garden Club of Long Beach Island, offering advice to homeowners. The story follows below.

“Homeowners should always plant native plants when creating their landscaping if they want to avoid problems like the pine beetle infestation that is currently decimating the Japanese black pines. The Garden Club of Long Beach Island recommends planting red cedar trees, as they can stand up to the harsh environment on the barrier islands and mainland lagoon communities.

“Black pines are affected by pine wilt disease, which is caused by infestations with the pinewood nematode, transmitted by mature pine sawyer beetles. If you have black pines on your property, you should be aware of what could be happening to them. Look for running sap around the base of the tree, a clear sign of infestation. The beetle infests the tree and eventually will kill it. If this happens on your property, the tree needs to be removed. Do not mulch the wood or use it for firewood. The disease will spread from tree to tree if not removed properly, with the waste taken to a regional waste management facility.”

— Maria Scandale

mariascandale@thesandpaper.net

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