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If you see pine trees turning orange and yellow in New Hampshire this season, don’t be too alarmed. They’re probably not dying, according to Kyle Lombard, a forest health specialist with the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands.

The damage caused by the needles of the Weymouth pine is particularly severe, especially in the west and center of the state.

“Oh man, my phone is melting off the wall this year,” Lombard said, as dozens of callers asked about the sad-looking trees.

The disease is caused by a group of fungi that are native to New Hampshire but only began infecting the region’s pine forests about 15 years ago.

“They’ve been around forever. But for some reason about ten years ago they started working together and causing us problems,” he said. “At the end of May, beginning of June, the trees suddenly turned orange.”

The fungus attacks the needles of a tree in the spring when they begin to sprout, but does not kill the needles until the following spring.

The needle damage was so bad this year, Lombard says, because there was so much rain last spring.

A pine tree suffers from needle damage

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New Hampshire Department of Forests and Lands

A pine tree suffers from needle damage

“It’s like any other fungus. Humidity, temperature and timing are really important,” he said. “Over the decades, we’ve had wetter and warmer springs, and that’s really helped the fungi.”

Lombard says his agency has not studied the link between damage from white pine needles and climate change, but as the region gets warmer and wetter, the link seems to be becoming clear.

“How else can we explain the fact that we have more needle diseases that depend on warm, humid weather?” he said.

Lombard’s team will begin its annual project – recording data on all of the state’s dead and dying trees from a small plane – early this summer to gather information on needle damage.

Although the needle damage is unlikely to kill the trees, the disease can have serious effects, especially on older pines.

“It’s like anything else,” Lombard said. “The older you get, the more little things start to bother you.”

A 100-year-old pine tree whose needles are damaged every year is stressed and more vulnerable to other threats such as drought or bark beetles, he said.

Lombard says not to cut down your pine trees when they turn orange. New needles will grow over the summer, and by August the trees should be green again.

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