Infestation by Southern Pine Beetles on preserved land in Stafford means that about 82 old-growth evergreens will have to go, according to Ocean County Freeholder John C. Bartlett, Jr.

Townsquare Media

The pitch pines and short leaf pines fill part of a tract on Hilliard Boulevard, purchased through the county's Natural Lands Trust program. Tree removal is scheduled to begin during the week of December 12.

In prepared remarks, Bartlett noted that similar instances, and consequences, have cropped up on other county-owned, operated, and preserved spots, adding that his foremost concern is public safety.

"While no one likes to cut down trees, this action is the only way to keep the public safe and curtail the destruction being done by the beetles," the Parks and Recreation liaison said.

Ocean Co. Freeholder John C. Bartlett, Jr. (Townsquare Media)

"Tree removal has already taken place at our county-run golf course in Brick, at the site of our Ocean County Parks and Recreation Administration building in Toms River and also in Ocean County Park in Lakewood."

The public-safety factor extends beyond beetle infestation itself. Of equal concern is the possibility of damaged trees falling onto the busy road alongside.

"Pine trees impacted by Southern Pine Beetles dry out very fast and have the potential to fall in one piece," Bartlett said. For this reason, we are removing those trees within a set distance from the roadway."

According to information collected by county staffers, the tiny insect was first reported in South Jersey in 1938, and another documentation didn't see light of day until 2001. The population has flourished in the mostly-warm winters of recent years, and they've become more voracious in the past five or six years.

The beetles are capable of killing thousands of trees in a matter of weeks, and pines are always on their menus. State data indicates that about 14,000 acres of New Jersey woodlands were destroyed in 2010.

Among the Parks Department's containment methods, the most effective has been to simply cut off the food supply, Bartlett said.

"Removing large, mature trees is not pleasurable, but it is necessary in certain instances to preserve the remaining trees and more importantly for public safety," Bartlett said.

"When you see the Parks and Recreation Department removing trees, know that they are working diligently to protect you and also the healthy trees in the surrounding areas."

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