By Ariana Green
Worcester, MA (November 27, 2008)- People who live in this city’s Greendale neighborhood love the maples that shade their streets in summer and turn beautiful colors in fall. But most of the maples in Greendale are now painted with red dots, indicating that they will be chopped down as early as next month because of an infestation of Asian long-horned beetles that is plaguing thousands of Worcester’s trees.
When a tornado devastated Worcester in 1953, maples were planted as replacement trees. “Norway maples were readily available back then,” said Brian Breveleri, the city’s urban forester. “And they were popular because they could weather the cold.”
But when Worcester plants new trees this time around, it will vary the type. A tree inventory, completed in 2006, showed that 80 percent of its street trees were maples, which the beetles find irresistible. The city should ideally have about half as many maples.
“Tree diversity helps prevent pests from gaining a foothold,” said Mike Bohne, forest health group leader for the United States Forest Service. “It also makes it so that a community does not lose its entire urban canopy if there is an infestation.”
Asian long-horned beetles, native to China, have also turned up in Illinois, New Jersey and New York, where the federal government has spent $268 million to control them over the last 11 years. Worcester will receive about $70 million from the Agriculture Department over the next two years for its eradication efforts. The discovery of the beetle in New England has raised fears about its threat to the region’s fall foliage and the maple syrup industry, if the infestation spreads farther north.
Only about a third of communities in the Northeast have completed tree inventories, according to the estimates of John Parry, a forester with the Urban Forestry Program for New England and New York. Nationally, Mr. Parry said, the figure is probably lower.
Worcester had the foresight to inventory earlier than most- in 1986- but it stopped short at that time of making the changes the inventory showed were necessary. “If Worcester had had the money and expertise to diversify plantings after the 1986 inventory showed there were too many maples,” said David Bloniarz, a scientist with the Forest Service, “things wouldn’t have been so bad today.”
Ithaca, N.Y., doubled its tree diversity after completing an inventory in 1997, said its urban forester, Andy Hilman. Ithaca went from having 200 tree varieties to more than 450, he said. Ithaca has been a testing ground for new technology developed by the Forest Service that helps inventory takers determine whether pests are responsible for a tree’s abnormal appearance. They enter any symptoms they spot, like small holes in a tree, into a hand-held computer and it tells them which pests could be responsible.
A team of professional inventory takers hired by Worcester failed to notice the beetles in 2006, Mr. Bohne said. “If they’d had that pest detection software when they did the Worcester inventory,” Mr. Hilman said, “and if they had noticed small holes and sawdust piles, then that could have led to earlier detection.”
With the software improving, cities throughout the country look to tree inventories as having the potential to save millions of dollars. And many are recruiting local volunteers to do such inventories, an option that foresters endorse because it means more people are trained to look for signs of pests.
“In most cases the Asian long-horned beetle was first detected by residents,” said Keith Cline, program manager with the Urban and Community Forestry Program. In Worcester, Donna Massie, a resident of Greendale, first noticed the beetle this summer and reported it to the authorities. Ms. Massie is eager to help with eradication efforts, but other residents are angry that the beetle went undetected for so long. “It seems to me that Worcester just drags its feet,” said Donald Huard, 58, a handyman who lives on an affected street. “And now look; the problem is so big it’s really going to change our landscape.”
Ms. Massie, 53, is trying to get her neighbors to stay positive and informed through her Web site, asianlonghornedbeetleitems.com, which also sells beetle-themed goods like lacquered frozen beetles in wooden boxes and beetle Christmas ornaments. She plans to give half her proceeds to the city for replanting. “Some people blame the government for catching the problem after the beetles already had time to spread,” she said. “But, really, it’s the beetle’s fault, and we’re all responsible, so the best thing to do now is to get educated and deal with the situation before it gets even bigger.”
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