By Philip Newman
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and a Queens congressman have pledged increased action as well as more money in the battle against two of Queens' most serious threats – a mosquito-borne virus that infected nearly 2,000 people in the borough and an imported beetle that destroys trees by the thousands.
Glickman, U.S. Rep .Joseph Crowley (D-Elmhurst) and several other government and civilian officials took part in a symbolic planting of an American Linden tree in Ruppert Park, a tiny green space on 94th Street on Manhattan's Upper East where more than two dozen trees fell to the Asian Longhorned Beetle.
The discovery was particularly ominous since it is only a few blocks from Central Park.
“In Queens alone, we have already lost more than 1,400 trees,” Crowley said. “Forestry experts have stated that the Asian Longhorn Beetle represents the most serious threat to our nation's trees and forests in more than 50 years.”
Crowley's efforts have resulted in obtaining $7 million in the fiscal year 2001 budget to fight the beetle, $5 million more than last year.
The beetle has hit the wooded areas of Ridgewood, Woodside, Flushing, Sunnyside, Long Island City and Bayside particularly hard.
“Try to picture Central Park without trees,” Crowley said.
Among those at the news conference, introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) whose district covers Ruppert Park, was Lee Henderson, a young graphic designer, who first discovered an Asian Longhorned Beetle in the park last April and Carter Ingram, who spotted the beetle in Queens.
An assistant to Glickman said no decision had been made whether to use a nicotine-based insecticide called Merit to fight the beetle.
As for the West Nile virus, Glickman said “it has over-wintered, that is, it has lived through the winter because of somewhat mild temperatures.” But he said the U.S. Agriculture Department had obtained an emergency grant of $375,000 to get an early start in the fight against the mosquito that carries the virus.
Laboratory specialists said the money would go primarily for testing and sampling in an attempt to isolate the virus and to stamp it out.
City officials say as many as 1,900 people in northern Queens were infected with West Nile virus last year with nine of the cases causing death.
Glickman is on a tour to bring about public awareness of what the USDA calls Invasive Species, including the West Nile virus, the Asian Longhorned Beetle, the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, the Mexican Fruit Fly, Classical Swine Fever, the Screw Worm, the Plum Pox, the Fire Ant and the Citrus Canker,
“One reason for an increase in some of these problems is that both passenger and cargo traffic into the United States has increased by about 100 percent in the past decade,” Glickman said. “It is not a reason to stop and visitors to our country, but it is a reason for increased vigilance.”