JACKSON, Miss. — Forest Service officials say a severe southern pine beetle outbreak is threatening to damage thousands of acres of pine forest in Mississippi.

The U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday that it established an Incident Management Team to direct efforts to suppress the outbreak.

Forest Service entomologist Jim Meeker says the outbreak is unprecedented in scope, with infestations rapidly escalating in size and destroying entire plantations. According to a news release, the southern pine beetle is the most destructive forest pest in the South.

Recent surveys found more than 3,500 spots of infestation by southern pine beetles at several national forests in Mississippi.

In the absence of southern pine beetle suppression, large-scale pine mortality occurs, destroying habitats for endangered species, recreation opportunities, timber and other property values.