Pine trees in the nearly 1,700- acre Broad Creek Boy Scout camp in northern Harford County have come under attack by several types of beetles that ravaged forests in other parts of the country.
Robert H. Tichenor, head of the state Department of Agriculture's forest pest management program, called the infestation the largest in Maryland in the 25 years he has been on the job.
It has resulted in the destruction of about 8,500 white pines scattered over 12 acres off Castleton Road near Dublin.
Reed Blom, director of support services for the Baltimore-area Council of Boy Scouts, said the infestation was noticed several weeks ago, and state officials move quickly to prevent its spread.
He said staff from the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources "were here within 24 hours of when we called."
"There was a fear that the beetles were a type from the South that we don't want in this state," said Blom. "An entomologist with the Department of Agriculture came up and said within one year all of our white pine trees could be dead."
Jeff Horan, chief of forest resource planning and analysis at the state Department of Natural Recourses, said the trees were victim of several types of beetles commonly called bark beetles. He identified them as sawyer, turpentine and ips beetles.
In other parts of the country, sawyer beetles have left an unwanted mark on the landscape.
Two years ago, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources advised residents not to bother planting Scotch pine trees because of an infestation of sawyer beetles blamed for killing about half the Scotch pines in the state.
Sawyer beetles carry thousands of microscopic worms, or nematodes. The worms catch a ride from tree to tree and choke off the tree's ability to absorb water.
Horan said the beetles usually attack trees that are already stressed. The trees at the Boy Scout's camp were situated too closely together and had insufficient light.
He said the stressed trees seem to send out a chemical signal that attracts the beetles. "Normal, healthy trees don't attract the beetles."
To halt the spread, Blom said that the Boy Scouts have contracted with Glatfelter Pulp Wood Co., of Spring Grove, Pa., to cut the trees and haul them away.
Tom Bosley, vice president and general manager of Glatfelter, said the company would take the trees to its plant in Spring Grove, where they would be processed into pulp to be used in making paper.
As a precaution to prevent further spread of disease, Blom said the trees could only be on the Glatfelter property for 24 hours before being processed.
"We are clearing out about 12 acres of Virginia pines and white pines to prevent the spread of the disease," said Blom.
He said the beetles pose a danger only to the pines on the property and not to other nearby trees, including a 60-acre hemlock forest.
Horan said he did not think the infestation at the camp posed "a lot of danger to trees on adjoining property."
"I would be concerned, but surprised if it spread to other properties unless the trees there were also planted close together and were in need of thinning," he said.
Tichenor agreed. He said the Boy Scouts are doing the right thing by having the trees removed. "They are taking the heart out of the infestation, and if trees on neighboring properties are young, healthy, vigorous and well-managed, there's not much for people to fear."
Tichenor said previous infestations of pine trees in the state occurred in 1965, 1978 and 1993.
The campground is home to several threatened or endangered animal species, including the map turtle, bald eagle, cerulean warble and a fish called the log perch.
The clearing of the property along Castleton Road has caused some neighbors to wonder whether the Broad Creek Memorial Scout Reservation land was being developed.
"I can assure everyone living in that area, that is not going to happen," said Blom. He said much of the land is already in preservation programs and the remainder in the process of going into a plan.
"We have two one-half-acre sites where we could build a pavilion or a building, and that is not in our plans at this time," Blom said.
He said that, once the infected pines are cleared, more trees will be replanted on the property, likely some form of hardwood.
Blom said that the camp, which surrounds a 50-acre lake, draws about 4,500 Scouts each week during summer.
In February, Harford County paid $1.5 million for the development rights to nearly 400 aces of the property. Blom said the remaining acreage is in the process of going into a federal land-preservation program that will bar it from future development.