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Queens Chronicle

Vigilance continues over Asian beetles

None seen in four years in Queens but fears continue after LI discovery

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Posted: Thursday, July 10, 2014 10:30 am

Despite a setback on Long Island with the re-emergence of the destructive Asian long-horned beetle, the federal regional project manager said things are still looking good in Queens.

Joe Gittleman, who works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Asian Longhorned Beetle Project, told the Queens Chronicle there have been no sightings of the insects in the borough since 2010.

“I believe they are well-contained in Queens, but we are not out of the woods yet and I’m not making any predictions if there are any around,” Gittleman said.

The beetles destroy trees and the federal government fears they will get upstate and damage New York’s hardwood and maple syrup industries.

The pests are believed to have come here from Asia in solid wooden packing crates that were used to ship goods from China. The crates have since been banned. The beetles were first discovered in Brooklyn in 1996 and spread throughout Queens beginning in Maspeth in 2003.

The bugs deposit eggs into healthy trees and the larvae feed on living tree tissue before emerging from dime-sized holes a year later during prolonged periods of heat in late June or July. Because of the damage inflicted by the beetles, the trees ultimately die.

The newly hatched beetles can then fly and infest new trees. They live 30 to 60 days. To prevent further spreading, infested trees are cut down, chipped and burned. There are no known natural predators.

Gittleman estimates about 16,000 trees have been destroyed in the city because of the beetles.

Recently, federal and state officials announced finding more than 550 infested trees in West Babylon and East Farmingdale, LI. The first sightings on Long Island were near Amityville in 1996 and more than 18,000 trees have been destroyed since then.

“We found the latest ones in an area that was outside the quarantine,” Gittleman said, noting that the zone has since been expanded.

Meanwhile, work continues to hunt down any renegade beetles in Queens. Gittleman noted that regular tree inspections are held across the borough’s quarantine area. Tree climbers are used throughout the year to inspect for the telltale holes left by the beetles emerging from the trees.

Inspectors are now working in communities east of the Van Wyck Expressway.

In recent years, Staten Island and Manhattan have been declared free of the beetles. In other areas, Chicago and New Jersey have also eradicated the insects.

Although the beetles are still a problem in Massachusetts and Ohio, Gittleman said they have been eradicated in Boston.

Queens, however, remains in a quarantine zone and it is illegal to transport wood out of the borough. Fines can run as high as $250,000. Queens homeowners can arrange removal of branches and trees by the Parks Department by calling 311 and setting up a pickup date.

The wood must be bundled and all tree material must be removed by the city, even if it does not come from one of the susceptible species such as maple or sycamore.

The beetles are 1 1/2 inches long with shiny black bodies, white spots and long antennae. This is the time of year to see them and residents are urged to alert the USDA at Asianlonghornedbeetle.com or by calling 1-(877) 786-7252.

Gittleman advises that if a beetle is found, try to capture it and put it in a jar. “Don’t squash it,” he said, “and don’t hesitate to call.”

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