The hard winter may have left New Jersey with at least one positive side effect: the slowing of the migration of a pine tree-devouring insect.

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Richard VanVranken, agricultural agent and head of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County, said the southern pine beetle can encircle a pine tree and cut off its water supply, killing the tree over time.

This harsh weather may have put the brakes on the bug's northern migration to the Mullica Rver, but the jury's still out.

"There have been some reports that we got close to it (low temperatures) for extended periods in some parts of the region," VanVranken said. "Other parts didn't quite get cold enough."

He said there's still concern about the beetle getting into the heart of the Pinelands.

The southern pine beetle crossed the Delaware Bay 13 years ago, and has been infesting pine trees up to the Mullica River. The state Forest Fire Service has been helping efforts to slow the bug's migration, by flattening areas of affected forests so the beetle cannot jump to its next location.

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