NEW YORK — White pine trees are on the decline statewide, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Jessica Cancelliere, a research scientist in DEC’s Forest Health Diagnostic Lab in Delmar and Robert Cole, a Forester in Forest Health in DEC’s Albany office, released an article called “White Pine Decline” in July which discusses the phenomenon and what DEC is doing to remedy it. It had been written in May and June.
While Cancelliere was unavailable for comment, Cole said he also works in DEC’s Bureau of Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health and they acknowledged that the decline was happening throughout the state, not just in the Capital District.
Beyond New York, he said it is impacting white pine ranges across the northeast coast like in New England and even the Midwest region of Canada.
He added that the decline was actually first noticed back in 2014 in New York from the low-level discoloration of affected pine trees, or Pinus strobus. It originally was detected in 2010 in Maine where the decline affected 62,000 acres of forest, and this spilled over into southeastern New Hampshire, eastern Massachusetts and eastern Connecticut. In the aforementioned article, he mentioned that his Forestry team was “conducting an exotic woodborer survey in the white pine stands of Wilcox Lake Wild Forest near Wells” when they first made this discovery; white pines’ groves there can be as tall as 200 feet and up to 5 feet in diameter.
“We’re seeing this progression in the past five years and the discoloring is really the main sign of it,” he said. “Normally a pine tree sheds some needles in summer or early fall but discoloration is a big thing to watch out for. It can occur early in the summer like the end of May. Green needles turn yellow and red before they fall off in July from this disease. Normally white pines do shed some needles but it’s in the fall.”
Speaking of disease, four fungi species were determined to be causing white pine needle damage (WPND).
Three of them — Lecanosticta acicola, Lophophacidium dooksii and Bifusella linearis — are believed by the DEC to be native to the northeast region but have been known to cause only minor damage to white pine trees.
The fourth species, Septorioides strobi, was first discovered in the state in 2015 and has a fungi relative in Japan that is known to attack Japanese black pine. DEC believes that this fourth species is most damaging one out of the four now.
Cole said, “Fungi needs cool temperatures and moisture, and the springs have been heavy and the summers feel warm-wet. These patterns are now conducive for fungi.”
The article noted that since 1950, the country’s northeastern region has seen an increase of 1°C and overall precipitation has been at around 165 mm during the April-September growing season, 2011 being the wettest recorded year so far.
Relating back to his previous point, these fungi, besides discoloring white pines’ needles, would make their canopies appear thin and the branches would also be thinned and weakened, making them more vulnerable to damage from animals, fungi, water, sunlight and soil.
The article also included that pests like white pine blister rust and white pine weevil have contributed to the overall decline.
The rising spread of the fungi species is also complemented by the high density of white pines throughout the state.
According to the article, “Since needle diseases flourish in crowded stand conditions where branches are close together and light and air cannot easily penetrate the canopy, silvicultural practices like thinning to reduce stand densities in WPND-infected stands will decrease the dispersal of associate fungi spores and increase crown light exposure, promoting growth, crown development and tree recovery.”
The article indicated that the state DEC has contacted the U.S. Forest Service Northeastern Area office in New Hampshire and they are now working to develop new guidance recommendations on how to address the white pine decline.
As part of this ongoing process, New York has 30 monitoring plots across the state in the long term that are collecting stand data, observing track changes in tree health and identifying fungal pathogens.
Cole said, “We go back year to year to track the trees’ progress like measuring their height, diameter and give an overall rating or health number.”
When asked if the overall decline is dangerous, Cole said, “That’s tough to say. In the past five years, a good portion of white pines across the state had been affected but it could further turn into a major thing. We want to do more forest management and monitoring.”
For more information, visit www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/0619whitepine.pdf.