BANKHEAD NATIONAL FOREST, AL (WAFF) - Are you someone who spends a lot of time in the outdoors? The U.S. Forest Service has issued an advisory for those who hunt, hike, kayak, mountain bike, fish and/or camp.
An outbreak of the southern pine beetle has left a mark on Alabama’s forests, posing dangers. Thousands of trees in the state’s national forests and beyond have been impacted.
“Pine beetles get started and instead of just killing one or two trees at a time, they can actually kill up to acres of trees at a time, creating pretty hazardous conditions where that happens,” explained Andy Scott, district ranger for Bankhead National Forest.
Outdoor enthusiasts are urged to exercise caution while visiting a national forest.
The Forest Service continues to respond and manage the southern pine beetle outbreak. From 2017 to present, the Forest Service reported more than 600 spots (groups of dead or dying pine trees) on the Bankhead National Forest and Talladega National Forest.
This year, there are more hazardous trees because of the outbreak. A hazardous tree has a structural defect that makes it likely to fall in whole or in part. Falling trees are an ever-present hazard when traveling or camping in any forest. Too often, visitors are unaware of the risks associated with defective trees, the Forest Service indicated.
Scott shared what to look for, saying, “If they’re missing needles or if they have red needles, it’s a good indication that the trees has a defect where limbs of even the tree could fall.“
The Forest Service asks that visitors keep these safety tips in mind:
- Be aware of your surroundings as trees can fall without warning. Be particularly watchful when it’s windy.
- Avoid parking or camping in areas where trees could fall.
- Avoid dense patches of dead trees. Limbs and damaged trees may fall at any time.
- Look up while on trails, especially when it’s windy. Stay out of the forest when there are strong winds that could blow down trees. If you are already in the forest when winds increase, go to a clear area.
- Park close to a main road rather than on a spur or one-way section when driving in remote areas of the forest to avoid being trapped if a tree falls across the road.
- Remember: Plan your trip. Tell a friend or family member and keep a line of communication. You are responsible for your own safety and for the safety of those around you.
“Make sure when you’re parking in different areas, that you look out for this hazard for your vehicles as well. It’s just where you’re camping or where you’re staying at. Make sure your vehicles are in a place where you’ll be safe,” said Jason Harris, Bankhead National Forest silviculturist.
There are impacted trees in many places across the state. Check the Alabama Forestry Commission’s website to learn where they are located.
“That’s the primary dangers, falling limbs and trees. Just keep an eye on where those would be, what your surroundings are. Don’t camp underneath one,” Scott added. “Be aware of your personal safety.”
The coordination of resources between the National Forests in Alabama, Alabama Forestry Commission, Forest Service forest health specialists and additional partners involve SPB prevention, detection and suppression. This fall and winter, hunters and all visitors should also expect to see more management activity as forest workers continue operations including the use of heavy equipment to cut and remove SPB affected timber.
The southern pine beetle, a cyclical outbreak species, is the most destructive forest pest in the south, both in economic and ecological impacts. In the absence of southern pine beetle suppression, large-scale pine mortality occurs, destroying timber and wood products, threatened and endangered species habitat, recreation areas and infrastructure, such as developed sites and trails, and other property values such as neighboring forest stands.
“We have many hundreds to thousands of hunters, especially in the Black Warrior Wildlife Management Area that will be out this fall. They just need to be aware of their surroundings. There’s no reason not to come visit, but just be aware to stay healthy and safe,” Scott said.