On Monday crews from R.J. Cobb Land Clearing moved into the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest to begin clearing some 90 acres of dead red pine trees that have been blighted in recent decades by the fungus diplodia pinea. The work is part of a larger three-year effort to remove 237 acres of timber that was originally planted as early as 1925 in the forest.

The pines, which were planted in orderly six-by-six-foot rows, once towered above a needle-carpeted forest floor, but are now mostly husks of the fungus-infested trunks. An explosion of pitch pine and scrub oak undergrowth more representative of the Island ecosystem has grown up beneath them. The red pines are especially susceptible to disease because they were planted just south of their natural range. They now pose a fire hazard and crews will work for the next two weeks clearing the remaining trees using excavators, grinders and other heavy machinery.

“They’re essentially reducing a large concentration of hazardous fuel in the state forest while restoring the traditional ecosystem,” said state forest supervisor John Varkonda this week.

Chipping away: clearing fungus-infested red pines. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The $240,000 contract to remove the trees is being funded by a U.S. Service grant. The Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation is overseeing the project.