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Feds Say 300,000 Queens Trees Face Ruin

Government agencies are racing to find a chemical agent to stop an army of ravenous Asian Longhorn Beetles that could destroy an estimated 300,000 of Queens’ 800,000 trees, said Joseph Gittleman, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gittleman, who heads up the department’s beetle project, said that northeast Queens is the focal point of the tree-eating insects. He noted that since last February 678 diseased trees have been cut down in Queens and 4,400 statewide. There are an estimated 24,000 street trees in Queens considered vulnerable to the beetle invasion.
He said the infestation in the city began in a three-square block area north and south of Northern Boulevard between 221 and 214 streets. The area is not too far from the so-called "hot zone" in College Point where the encephalitis outbreak first occurred this summer.
Other Queens communities hit by the insect infestation include Maspeth, Long Island City, Woodhaven, Sunnyside, Ridgewood, Flushing and Bayside.
Richard Murphy, an official of the Queens Park Department, agreed with Gittleman there was a risk of a huge tree loss in Queens.
"It’s possible," he said. "It’s a helluva of a scenario."
Gittleman said that city, state and federal agencies have been trying to develop a strategy for destroying the beetles since they first became a problem here in 1996.
"Although the beetles are no direct health threat," he said, "they severely weaken trees, and boughs could fall, causing injuries."
The trees affected by the invasion of the beetles include maples, elms, poplars, birch, willow, horse chestnut and pussy willow. Officials didn’t know why the insects preferred Queens.
Gittleman said the beetles are believed to have entered the country from China in wooden packing cases.
"Our workers will find between one and three of the Asian Longhorned Beetles on a tree," Gittleman said. "When we cut the tree down we often find hundreds of beetles as well as larvae."
The USDA official said federal officials were experimenting with a variety of pesticides and other chemical agents, but had yet to find any that could stop the beetle from destroying trees.
Legislators are rallying around the USDA efforts. Last week Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney called a news conference to announce a major new federal appropriation for the battle against the insects.
She said Congress earmarked two separate appropriations to fight the beetle. In one, $2.1 million will go to the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the USDA for research, surveys and tree removal. New York State will receive almost a million dollars of that money.

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