Part of quarantine area may be lifted 1

The map indicates the quarantine zone in Queens and Brooklyn. Part of the Queens quarantine area east of the Van Wyck Expressway may be recommended for removal next year if no new beetle infestations are found.Map

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Asian Long-Horned Beetle Project reports no new sightings in the borough for the past five years and may recommend next year that the Eastern Queens quarantine be lifted.

That’s the latest word from Joe Gittleman, project manager with the program, during a phone interview from his Long Island office.

First discovered in Brooklyn in 1996, the insect pests spread throughout Queens, beginning in Maspeth in 2003. The beetles destroy trees and the federal government fears they will get upstate and damage New York’s hardwood and maple syrup industries.

The beetles are believed to have come here from Asia in wooden packing crates that were used to ship goods from China. The containers have since been banned.

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 hot weather in late June or July. Because of the damage inflicted, the trees ultimately die.

The beetles are 1 1/2 inches long with shiny black bodies, white spots and long antennae.

Although they only live 30 to 60 days, the newly hatched beetles can fly and infest new trees. 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 due to the beetles.

To help prevent the spread of the bugs, the USDA uses tree climbers to locate holes left by the beetles. Inspections are also made from the ground across the borough’s quarantine area. The inspectors are now concentrating their efforts in communities east of the Van Wyck Expressway.

That will be followed by inspections in Western Queens.

“I am very encouraged in Queens that the beetles have been eradicated,” Gittleman said. “We will look to recommend ending the quarantine in Eastern Queens within a year, giving it deregulated status.”

He hopes to follow that up with deregulating Western Queens a year or so later.

In recent years, Staten Island and Manhattan have been declared free of the beetles.

Since most of Queens is in a quarantine zone, it is illegal to transport wood from there out of the borough. Fines can run as high as $250,000. Queens residents 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.

Meanwhile, Gittleman continues the fight on Long Island, where major infestations were found last year in West Babylon and East Farmingdale.

Residents are urged to alert the USDA if they spot one of the critters by calling 1-(877) 786-7252 or going to Asianlonghornedbeetle.com.

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