Asian longhorn beetle (Submitted photo)
Asian longhorn beetle (Submitted photo)
Friday July 16, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- The recent discovery of Asian longhorn beetles at Boston's Faulkner Hospital has foresters in northern New England nervous of a possible infestation of the invasive insect.

Massachusetts environmental and conservation agencies confirmed six trees near the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain were infested with the beetle on July 6. The trees were immediately removed and ground into chips to eradicate any beetles or larvae.

The alarming find in Massachusetts has sparked concern in New Hampshire and Vermont, causing foresters and entomologists to increase surveying efforts.

"We've got our fingers crossed," said Windham County Forester William "Bill" Guenther with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation. "It could be a real problem for our native forests."

The Green Mountain State has more than 4 million acres of forest with 30 percent cover from trees in the maple family, including sugar, red and silver, the beetle's favorite snack.

"That includes a wide range in Vermont ... it basically goes after everything in the maple family," said Guenther.

Elms, willows, birches and poplars are all at risk. The insect attacks several hardwood tree species, although oaks, conifers and evergreens are safe from the beetle.

In New Hampshire, the state's Forest Health Office regularly surveys for the beetles, which are easiest to see when they are most active from late July through August.

"We don't know if the infestation is more widespread than the six trees," said Stan Swier, entomology specialist at the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. "Hopefully, the infestation was caught early enough, but that will only be known by surveying the area."

Asian longhorn beetles are believed to have originally circulated through Chinese wooden packing crates and do not have any known predators in the United States. The insect is jet black with white patches on its wings and a long antennae when compared to its body.

It tends to look very similar to the native white-spotted longhorned sawyer beetle, but the Asian longhorn is described as a more glossy insect.

Oftentimes a tree infested by the beetle will not look different from others in the surrounding area, but observers may look for oval-shaped craters normally around the size of a dime or a quarter. Those small exit holes are created when the female chews into the bark, lays an egg and moves to another location.

As beetles continue to exploit the tree, damage to the bark can cause it to die throughout its exterior. Trees also are structurally weakened as the larva appears and tunnels inside the trunk and branches, increasing the likelihood it will fall apart.

Numerous forest services and agencies are pooling their efforts across state lines to inform the public about the beetle's appearance and markings. Since the timing and location of the beetle are critical to eradicating it in new territories, education and outreach are essential in both rural and urban neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, the initial discovery of the species typically comes from a concerned resident, not a forestry specialist or natural resource professional.

"We want to ensure if it does get here, we will have many more eyes out there," said Guenther. "Having an earlier detection system can't be stressed enough, it really is key."

N.H. State Forester Brad Simpkins said residents buying local firewood for summer camping or winter heating will aid in containing the spread of invasive species, including the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid and Emerald Ash Borer.

"We can keep these infestations local only if we don't transport the wood out of the infested areas," he said. "Eighty four percent of New Hampshire is covered in forests. We have plenty of wood here. The primary way these beetles move is by people carrying them around in firewood."

Urban centers such as Chicago and New York City have maintained control over smaller infestations of the Asian longhorn beetles in prior years. 

But along came the outbreak in Worcester, Mass.

In a 134-acre forested tract in the city, thousands of infested and high-risk trees were slated for removal. Since the Worcester discovery in 2008, an estimated $50 million of federal and state money has gone to eradicate the beetle.

Roughly 25,000 infested trees were destroyed to halt the spread, but the extreme efforts seemed to pay off -- only 29 beetles were found last year, as opposed to the thousands projected in the city starting in 2008.

Boston conservation officials have extended a 1.5-mile radius from the initial site and will not allow wood products to leave the regulated area.

"We are engaging all our partners, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, city of Boston, town of Brookline and other municipalities and agencies to educate the public on the [beetle] and solicit their help in reporting and dealing with it," said Commissioner Rick Sullivan of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation.

The department has established several workshops and training sessions in the state to answer any questions in regards to the Asian longhorn beetle. Similar community meetings are scheduled in Vermont and New Hampshire.

Upcoming workshops

In Vermont:

-- The state Department of Forests and Parks, Village Trees and the Woodland Owner's Association are hosting an insect identification session with DFP Forester Jim Esden beginning at 5 p.m. on July 21 at Leland & Gray Union High School. Following the meeting, Esden will lead an on-site forest session at Townshend State Park to see the invasive Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, which has attacked the area's Eastern Hemlock trees.

For more information, residents may contact Guenther at 802-257-7967 (ext. 305).

In New Hampshire:

-- Educational workshops are planned for Keene on Aug. 3 & 7. Interested residents may contact the Cheshire County UNH Cooperative Extension office at 603-352-4550. Those in the Granite State who think they have find an Asian longhorn beetle may bring it to the Keene office at 800 Park Ave. for identification.

Chris Garofolo can be reached at cgarofolo@reformer.com or 802-254-2311 ext. 275.