Woodhaven has a lot of trees. To its north is the eponymous Forest Park; along its residential streets is a cool canopy of maples, oaks and evergreens.
The trees give the neighborhood a nice suburban feel in the spring and summer, but can also invite an unwanted guest who found a home in the neighborhood — and many other parts of the borough — a decade ago.
The Asian longhorned beetle, an invasive species from East Asia, arrived in Queens in 1999, first being spotted near the Queens Zoo in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The beetle was first discovered in Forest Park in 2003. It has no natural predators in the United States and is destructive to trees.
Within a few years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture declared war on the beetle that killed hundreds of trees in the borough, setting up a quarantine zone that includes the northern half of Queens. At the southern end of that area was shady Woodhaven.
The city says they are on the cusp of eradicating the beetle problem. But inspectors from the USDA and state agencies are still looking for signs of surviving beetles in Woodhaven.
But these inspectors are coming at a time when numerous burglaries are being reported in southern Queens allegedly committed by suspects who pose as government agents. That has left people afraid to open their doors to people seeking access.
The USDA and state agents have been ringing doorbells in Woodhaven seeking access to backyards to look for evidence of the beetle. Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, said he found out about the investigation from residents who called and complained about plain-clothed officers claiming to be from “the city” or “the Parks Department” asking for access to backyards to search for the beetle.
“It’s the middle of February and they want to look at trees? That’s kind of suspicious to people,” he said.
One of the doors they knocked on was at the home of Community Board 9 member Alexander Blenkinsopp, who remembered the USDA giving a presentation to the board in November, when they discussed the search for the beetle. He notified Wendell, who contacted the agency and found out the investigation was real.
On the WRBA website, Wendell issued a statement to area residents.
“These inspectors are doing important work to protect trees in Woodhaven and across Queens,” he wrote. “If someone claims they’re from an official agency and asks for access to your property, request to see their identification and make sure they are dressed appropriately.”
Residents should keep in mind that New York State inspectors do not have a uniform but should always be wearing an official orange vest with lettering. Federal inspectors should be dressed in either green pants or blue jeans, and should have on a black coat with USDA lettering. Inspectors carry official badges or official IDs and will show them on request.
Wendell also asked that federal and state investigators keep a line of contact with his civic association.
“[The WRBA] hopes that the USDA takes steps to make sure that their inspectors properly identify themselves,” he wrote on the website.“The WRBA also hopes that improved openness and communication with residents will help inspectors keep Woodhaven free of this destructive pest.”
Though the beetle is small, it is easily identifiable by its long white and black antennae. But it is uncommon to see them in the winter. Signs of their existence include dime-sized holes in tree trunks, which are where female beetles lay their eggs. It is that process that often kills the trees.
A spokeswoman for the USDA said it will be on the ground in Woodhaven for about three more weeks.