By Molly Daly

TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — New Jersey’s pinelands have been getting a break from Mother Nature in the ecosystem’s battle  with a small but destructive insect.

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The southern pine beetle has been tunneling its way through South Jersey’s pine forests for at least 11 years.  And last year, the invasive insect’s push to colonize New Jersey has been aided by a warming climate, with milder-than-normal temperatures allowing the critters to safely overwinter.

The beetles killed 14,000 acres of pines in 2010, and were expected to equal that destructiveness last year.  But Lawrence Hajna, with New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, says just 7,000 acres were affected.

“This past year’s been fortunate — we saw a lot less activity than we expected, and that may be due to the fact that we had a much rainier summer that made the trees more resistant to infestations from the pine beetles,” he tells KYW Newsradio.

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It may also help that for the native checkered beetle, the pine bark beetle is what’s for dinner.

But Hajna say good forestry management and public involvement are the most reliable ways to limit the damage:

“We strongly urge homeowners (and) property owners to be vigilant for the signs of beetle infestation and to take action quickly if they see them,”he advises.

If you see sap oozing from pinholes in a pine tree, chances are good that it’s infested, and should be reported by calling 609-625-1124 or going to the NJ DEP’s web site.

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