Tree-killers invade the Island
Dangerous bug is found on West Shore as pruners stage the initial assault
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Even as pruners were preparing to cut down 3,000 trees on Prall’s Island after Asian longhorned beetles infested several trees there, the tree-killing bug was found in a silver maple tree in Bloomfield — the first sign that the beetle has winged its way to Staten Island.
Federal inspectors now will zero in on several non-residential West Shore neighborhoods, Shooter’s Island, the Isle of Meadows and communities in New Jersey, all within a mile-and-a-half quarantine area that will be scoured for further evidence that the beetle has made landfall.
<A href=”http://ads.silive.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.ads/www.silive.com/xml/story/si_advance/n/ntop/@StoryAd?x”><IMG src=”http://ads.silive.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.ads/www.silive.com/xml/story/si_advance/n/ntop/@StoryAd?x”></A> “It’s so close [to Prall's Island], we’re not surprised” that it spread, said Christine Markham, U.S. Department of Agriculture national Asian longhorned beetle program director. “That infested tree will come down and any other infested tree will come down. We have our inspectors out surveying right now to limit the extent of the infestation.”
The silver maple is on the former GATX site, which had been proposed for NASCAR’s now-defunct 80,000-seat speedway.
Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said “it’s not happy news” that the beetle has been found on Staten Island.
“If we’re lucky, it may just be that one tree,” he told the Advance, adding that the agency will “do everything possible to contain it. Trees and parks characterize Staten Island. It could be devastating if it’s not contained.”
Yesterday, the serenity of the 80-acre nature preserve on Prall’s Island was interrupted by tractors, chain saws and wood chippers as the heavy equipment was brought by barge to the island, located in the Arthur Kill between Staten Island and New Jersey.
Ms. Markham said it’s “extremely important to get it under control now” before the critters emerge from tree trunks in June, potentially spreading to other areas. This time of year, the beetles are “tunneling, feeding, growing and getting ready to come out,” she said. They can fly up to a mile-and-a-half in a year, explaining the need for the quarantine area.
It’s also important to cut down the trees before any birds begin nesting on the island, Benepe said.
On average, the beetle lays 35 to 70 eggs in trees between June and October and burrows its way out, leaving bullet-sized holes and sawdust in its path and ultimately killing the trees.
<A href=”http://ads.silive.com/RealMedia/ads/click_nx.ads/www.silive.com/xml/story/si_advance/n/ntop/@StoryAd?x”><IMG src=”http://ads.silive.com/RealMedia/ads/adstream_nx.ads/www.silive.com/xml/story/si_advance/n/ntop/@StoryAd?x”></A> Ms. Markham said quarantine area will be re-surveyed for four years to make sure the beetle doesn’t reintroduce itself here.
The Advance was taken on a state Department of Environmental Conservation boat trip around the island yesterday, but a reporter and photographer were not allowed to go ashore — DEC officials cited safety reasons for not allowing access.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation is coordinating the multi-agency project which is expected to last two weeks, said Thomas Panzone, a DEC citizen participation specialist.
Thirty-one people from the Parks Department and the DEC began the work to cut down 3,000 gray birch, red maple, hackberry, ash, poplar and willow trees — all “host trees” or tree species where the beetles thrive. The remaining 3,000 trees on the island — such as black locust, cherry and sumac — will remain since they are not threatened by the bug, Ms. Markham said.
Though only 36 trees were found to have been infested, all the host trees will be taken down to prevent the beetles from spreading, she said. The tree stumps and roots will not be removed — beetles thrive in tree trunks and need wood to survive — and the trees should regrow within “a couple years,” Ms. Markham said.
As the trees are cut down, they will be chipped and the resulting mulch will be spread on the island, said Joseph Gittleman, USDA’s Asian longhorned beetle program director in New York. The decision to chip, and not burn, the trees was finalized Sunday when it was confirmed that chipping equipment would be available to be brought to the island, he said.
“It would have been a lot cheaper to burn,” said Gittleman, adding that environmental concerns for residents in neighboring communities factored in the decision. “Either way will kill the beetle and destroy” their ability to spread.
Richard Lynch, a botanist with the Sweet Bay Magnolia Bioreserve Conservancy, a local environmental group, kayaked to Prall’s Island yesterday morning to protest the removal of so many trees.
“It doesn’t make sense just to clear-cut a forest,” he said. “The result is going to be devastating to the trees. It is obvious overkill.”
By Glenn Nyback