Tree-killing beetle strikes Boston

Tree-killing beetle strikes Boston

by Leslie Benson

Angie's List member Dick Green of Newton has lost trees to just about every invasive insect common to Massachusetts, and says he's not prepared to go head-to-head with the Asian longhorned beetle.

In July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) confirmed the beetle's presence on six trees located on the grounds of Faulkner Hospital in the historic Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, less than six miles from Green's home. He fears for the survival of his elms and maples, which appeal to the hardwood-boring bug. "It would be a tragedy if they were lost," Green says.

The ALB has destroyed thousands of trees since it was identified two years ago in Worcester, an hour west of Boston. Dennis Ryan of the Massachusetts Arborists Association says ALB infestations spread when people move firewood from one area to another. Certified arborist Bob Madden, owner of Madden Tree Inc. in Weymouth, is not surprised the beetle made its way into Boston. "We're lucky it's a bad flier, or it would've been here much sooner!" he says.

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino says USDA officials, trained volunteers and arborists will work to contain the beetle to the trees surrounding the hospital. The state's Department of Conservation and Recreation has declared a 1.5-mile radius around Faulkner, including the nearby Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, as a regulated area from which no wood can be removed. Anyone caught doing so can face criminal charges and more than $25,000 in fines.

After hearing about the spreading infestation, Angie's List member Nancy Hannah of Mansfield spotted what she thought was an ALB in her yard. "I put it in a film canister and stuck it in the freezer," she says. "A state official later identified it as a whitespotted pine sawyer instead. The ALB has a shiny black coat, but my bug was gray."

Since 2009, the state has allocated $80.5 million to eradicate the bug by hiring select contractors, such as Tree Tech Inc. in Foxboro, to destroy infested trees and send their 1-inch wood-chip remains to power plants to be burned as bio-energy. More than 27,000 trees have been removed from private and state properties, says Rhonda Santos, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Cooperative Eradication Program. This spring, the state began injecting 38,000 trees with imidacloprid, a preventative insecticide. Though the cost is paid by the state for homeowners in regulated areas, the homeowners must give written consent for the treatment, according to APHIS.

Green says he has considered adding imidacloprid to his regular tree treatments, but the cost - up to $200 per inoculation for homeowners outside quarantine zones ­- is a major deterrent. "Spraying insecticides has prevented further loss of my trees," he says, "but it's ongoing and can get expensive." In comparison, the cost to remove an infested tree can reach as high as $2,200 per tree, according to Madden.


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