By Dustin Brown
The Asian Longhorned beetle has infested 12 trees in Forest Park, city officials announced Monday, signaling a spread of the dreaded tree-killer's territory.
“While not completely unexpected, it does represent a further expansion of the realm of the Asian Longhorned beetle,” city Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said as he stood in front of an infested Norway maple that was only minutes away from being removed.
Eight of the 12 trees had already been chopped down, chipped and incinerated prior to Monday's announcement, a standard practice in the city's fight against the insect. Since the beetle was discovered in the city in 1996, 3,774 trees have been removed because of infestation.
The infested trees are concentrated around the golf course on the Glendale side of Forest Park, south of the Jackie Robinson Parkway. They were discovered as part of the ongoing surveillance of trees across the city that is meant to find infestations early and curb the spread of the insect.
Benepe said the beetle's effect on Forest Park is likely limited to the 12 trees that were already identified. The infestation can only spread in the summer months when the beetle is active.
The Asian Longhorned beetle wreaks havoc by burrowing into trees, laying eggs and tunneling back out, leaving holes that prevent the tree from photosynthesizing and eventually killing the plants.
The consequences of the beetle's spread could be little short of disastrous.
“Try to imagine Forest Park without the forest,” Benepe said. Out of the park's 538 acres, 411 are wooded. “What is at stake is the future of the parks in the city, but going beyond that, the future of forests in the Northeast.”
The battle against the insect is being waged on all levels of government, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to state and city agencies, which are “actively seeking out and eliminating the pockets of infestation,” Benepe said.
Over the past two years healthy trees have been infected with a pesticide called imidacloprid, which is designed “to protect trees that are not infested from becoming infested,” according to Joseph Gittleman, the co-director of the Cooperative Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program of the USDA.
In 2001, imidacloprid was injected into the trunks of 23,000 trees in the city, while 80,000 were treated last year. Gittleman said this year the pesticide will be delivered to many trees through injections into the soil rather than the trunk, which will allow it to be drawn into the plants through their root structures.
Benepe called on city residents to stay vigilant and report any suspected cases of beetle infestation by calling 3-1-1, the city's non-emergency hotline.
“If you see this insect, you should report it right away to the city, state or federal authorities,” Benepe said. “New Yorkers can help us by looking for signs of the insects in their trees or for the insects themselves.”
Out of city's stock of 5 million trees, half are species that are considered susceptible to the beetle.
“As we save a tree, we save a park, which ultimately saves a community,” said City Councilman Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), the chairman of the Council's Parks Committee.
Benepe outlined signs of beetle infestation that people should look out for:
* dime-sized holes bored into the tree trunk.
* oozing sap coming out of the holes.
* a pattern of sawdust coming out of the tree.
* the beetle itself, which emerges in June or July and stays out for only about two months. The insect is 3/4 to 1 1/4 inches long with antennae nearly two times the length of its body, which is black with white spots.
Native to China, the Asian Longhorned beetle was first found in Ridgewood and Sunnyside in 1997, in Bayside in February 1999 and in Flushing in August 1999, including Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The beetle made its U.S. debut in Greenpoint over the Brooklyn border before spreading to western Queens.
There is speculation that the beetles probably found their way to the United States as stowaways in wooden pallets and packing crates used for shipping.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.