NEW YORK — Not like the Beatles invasion of the 1960s, the Longhorned Asian Beetle invasion that's happening now in New York City could be devastating, Rep. Anthony Weiner said after a press conference—only half joking.
"This is a very dastardly foe," said Rep. Weiner, who presented a map of the city showing how Asian Longhorned Beetle sightings have spread from Brooklyn to Queens, Long Island and Manhattan—with the most recent sighting being last year in Central Park at 70th Street and 5th Avenue.
Rep. Weiner warned, "If this creeps upward, it's just a matter of time before it appears in the Adirondacks," referring to the mountain range and vast national park in the northeast of New York State.
About 1 inch long, with white spots and long antenna, the Asian Longhorned Beetle is capable of drilling through a maple, elm or willow tree faster than any hacksaw. The little pest has already destroyed over 4,000 trees in New York City and 6,000 in all of New York State, according to the parks department. Now city officials fear that without enough federal funds the problem is only going to get worse.
"What to many people is a small bug is a menacing problem to trees," said Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, who held a press conference with two members of Congress in Central Park last Sunday. "We could lose half the trees in the city."
The beetles, which originate from China, were first spotted in the United States in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn in 1996. They likely arrived on a shipment of lumber from China that arrived at a local port, said Rep. Carolyn Mahoney, a Democrat representing Greenpoint. "We had to chop down trees lining the streets and in the parks… It was horrible," said Rep. Mahoney.
After the incident, it became federal law that all wood being shipped into the United States had to be inspected.
The female beetles dig their way into a tree and lay eggs. The eggs then hatch into baby beetles that feed on the tree, and as they grow, they continue eating until they find their way out. The end result is a tree that looks like the victim of a drive by shooting.
Since 1996, the beetles have been spotted in New Jersey and Illinois, and Toronto in Canada.
Stopping the Asian Longhorned Beetles
Rep. Weiner and Rep. Mahoney say that the federal government's spending on eradicating the Asian Longhorned Beetle in New York has dropped too drastically—from $23 million to $8 million—and this has left the nation vulnerable to the beetles' further spread.
"If anti-beetle funding continues to fall, so too will our city's trees," said Rep. Maloney. "We need to squash the Asian Longhorned Beetle before it ravages the quality of life in New York City and spreads across the nation."
The Congress members point out that in Chicago, Illinois, where the number of Asian Longhorned Beetle infestations was at one point high, with over 1,500 trees destroyed, the beetles have been apparently eradicated through systematic measures. Chicago received 92 percent of its fund for fighting the beetles from the federal government, whereas the New York has only been receiving 76 percent.
On May 23, the U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment co-authored by Rep. Weiner and Rep. Joseph Crowley, who both represent parts of New York City. The amendment increases federal funding to fight the beetles—adding an additional $23 million. According to experts, this is the yearly amount needed in New York to put the United States on track for complete elimination of the beetles by 2020.
What can you do to help? The tell-tale signs of an Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation are pencil-sized holes in the tree trunk and saw dust created from their drilling. If you see it call 311. Free of charge, specialists from the parks department cut down and chop up trees infected with the beetles, and treat the surrounding area to catch any that escape.