Price, T.S., Doggett, C., Pye, J.M., Smith, B., eds. 1992. A history of southern pine beetle outbreaks in the southeastern United States. Sponsored by the Southern Forest Insect Work Conference. The Georgia Forestry Commission, Macon, GA. 65 p
Even prior to the time the southern pine beetle was first described by Zimmermann in 1868, pine mortality described by early writers may be attributed to the beetle. The first outbreak on record was reported by several writers in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Since it was reported in east Tennessee, coastal plain North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and piedmont North Carolina, the outbreak was probably statewide.
The Moravians, who emigrated from Austria, settled in the central piedmont of North Carolina around Winston-Salem. They were extremely interested in their forests and enacted forest management regulations and appointed foresters for their settlement as early as the 1750’s. In October 1796, their records report the “loss of many pines near Hope” (Fries, 1943). Since this area has frequently been the center of southern pine beetle activity in North Carolina during the last several decades, it is probable that the dying trees were a result of beetle attack. It is significant that the report was entered in October, which is one of the months in which beetle damage is most noticeable in North Carolina.
The Moravian report was followed by several reports of damage in the early 1800’s that was most certainly caused by southern pine beetle. F. Andrew Michaux reported dying longleaf pines in the coastal plain of Georgia and the Carolinas and yellow pine mortality in east Tennessee. His description leaves no doubt as to the cause of mortality.
…From the diversified uses of the wood, an idea may be formed of the consumption; to which may be added a waste of a more disastrous kind which seems impossible to arrest. Since the year 1804, extensive tracts of the finest pines are seen covered only with dead trees. In 1802, I remarked a similar phenomenon among the yellow pines in east Tennessee. This catastrophe is also felt among the Scotch firs which people the forests of the north of Europe and is wrought by swarms of small insects which lodge in different parts of the stock, insinuate themselves under the bark, penetrate into the body of the tree and cause it to perish in the course of a year (Michaux, 1857).
The severity of the outbreak which was the subject of Michaus’s report is further documented by contemporary South Carolina writer. The Charleston newspaper on January 7, 1804, reports:
It is now upwards of two years since it was observed that an unusual disease had made its appearance amongst the pine trees in the northern and eastern parts of this state…in many places there are thousands of acres where nine-tenths of the best trees are killed. The cause of the evil has been carefully sought after and found to proceed from a small black winged bug…No attempt has yet been made to remedy the evil which if it continues threatens to destroy the most valuable timber this country possesses. A gentleman lately from the county asserts that on a tract of two thousand acres of pine land which he owns on the Sampit River near Georgetown at least ninety trees in every hundred have been destroyed by this pernicious insect…
John Drayton of Charleston in a letter to the American Philosophical Society dated October 9, 1803, reported the loss of hundreds of acres of pines on his plantation on the Santee River. His analysis of the problem shows some knowledge of the life cycle of the beetle. He reports, “…this mischief is affected by a bug which flying from tree to tree perforates a hole in the bark to the sap and lays an egg which in a little time originates a worm which feeding on the sap immediately destroys the life of the tree “ (Drayton, 1803).
A letter from General Charles C. Pinckney read to the Philadelphia Philosophical Society on October 5, 1804, reported the formation of a committee by the South Carolina Agricultural Society to investigate the causes of the problem. No final report of the committee has been located, but this is probably the first attempt at research on the southern pine beetle. He also states: “We are very uncertain whether the worms you allude to are the cause of the effect of the death of the trees…” (Pinckney, 1804).
Pinckney also commented on the strength and useability of recently killed timber and advocated its use. He predicted a short-term market glut followed by shortages. In his letter, Pinckney illustrated the severity of the problem by reporting the loss of 5,000 acres of 7,000 acres on a plantation 26 miles north of Charleston.
James Madison in a letter to Judge Peters in 1818 said, “Now, all our red field, long unplowed, are overspread with pines, as thick as they can grow; whilst the adjacent grey lands, originally clothed with a pine forest, are gradually losing that kind of tree under the depredation of a particular worm.” This is the earliest recording of pine mortality in Virginia. It was probably the southern pine beetle.
From the time of the first reports in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s until the late 1800’s there is very little information on the damage caused by the southern pine beetle. Although it is possible that no damage was incurred from the beetle during this time period, it is probably that damage was occurring but was not noted because of poor survey methods or indifference. Table 2 (See Appendix) is a brief summary of survey data that was available from 1882-1959.
It does not appear, as some writers have suggested, that outbreaks of southern pine beetle occur periodically with a dearth of beetle activity between outbreaks. Some very severe outbreaks combine to produce a south-wide outbreak.
Beginning in the early 1960’s, improved survey detection techniques and expanded pest control organizations allowed improved detection and damage data collection. Table 1 and Map Figures 1960-1996 summarize survey data collected since 1960.
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