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Counties should fund beetle battle
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 14, 2000
The loggers are backlogged. And unless they get some help soon, it could mean the growing infestation of the Southern pine beetle in area forests will reach alarmingly unacceptable levels within two months.
That is why commissioners in all the affected counties, including Hernando, Pasco, Citrus, Marion, Levy, Alachua and Suwannee, should be prepared to allocate extra money from their contingency funds to step up the eradication effort.
Thousands of trees have been infested and the loggers who have been contracted to remove the trees are about three weeks behind. No relief is in sight until enough rain falls to slow the beetles. But even if that happens, the effects won't be seen until the fall. In the meantime, more and more trees are threatened.
If the problem worsens, and if counties do not contribute more money to stop the spread of the destructive pest, state Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford may have to intervene. If he concludes the infestation, coupled with the drought, necessitates declaring an emergency, that would allow him to set aside state money to catch up on cutting the infected trees.
That extreme measure may become necessary, but it also worries some foresters, who believe such naturally occurring episodes should not be interfered with.
While state officials ponder that larger question, county commissioners should do all they can to at least get caught up on the task of removing trees, and then stay on schedule until the rain comes.
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