Thursday, September 21, 2006

Asian Longhorned Beetle - A Tale of Many Cities

I helped a friend who lives in Linden, NJ, write this for presentation at her city council meeting. Feel free to adapt it to send to other New Jersey government officials - a starting list follows the letter text. -KW

Introduction: As a result of the Asian Longhorn Beetle (ALB) crisis in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Canada, thousands of hardwood trees have been cut down in Middlesex and Union counties here in New Jersey. There are no known treatments to cure a tree once it has been infested with ALB. But inoculating healthy, at-risk trees with the pesticide imidacloprid (injected into soil or trunks annually for at least three years) has successfully prevented the spread of ALB in Jersey City NJ, New York City and Chicago (1).

The ALB falls under the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Plant Protection and Quarantine (PPQ) division. The official control plan, as reported by the Rutgers Extension, has four parts: Intensive Core Survey to one-half mile radius around an infested tree; Area Wide Detection (sampling within a 25 mile radius); Delimiting Survey (annual inspection of all host trees within one mile radius of Intensive Core Survey boundaries) and High Risk Sites Detection Survey (to map all host trees within the quarantine area) (2).

Since January 2003 – three months after the Jersey City outbreak and almost two years before the Carteret, Woodbridge, Rahway and Linden outbreaks – the federal policy on treatment to control infestation in New York, New Jersey and Illinois was to cut down and chip infested trees and inject healthy at-risk host trees with imidacloprid (3).

Although some trees were treated – in Linden in 2005, for example – disproportionate numbers of New Jersey trees are being cut down. Why aren’t Linden residents being given the same opportunity to save their trees by chemical treatment as Chicago and New York, especially since it has proved effective in Chicago in removing the threat of ALB? Is it perhaps because cutting down trees saves money, takes less time and the USDA isn’t receiving adequate supportive funding for this problem? Are their trees any less valuable to their citizens than, say, in Chicago or New York? All homeowners in all neighborhoods should have as many of their trees saved as possible using the best available treatments. To do otherwise is unfair.

Background: The ALB is an imported parasite insect that attacks and kills hardwood host trees, including maple, birch, horse chestnut, poplar, willow, elm, and other species. The beetle is native to China, Korea and Taiwan, and came to the United States in packing crates from China. The first infestation was discovered in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in 1996. The second infestation was discovered in Central Park in March 2001 (4). In 2002, more than 134,000 healthy at-risk trees living within a quarter mile were injected (6).

Yet during 2002-2003, while New York had 190 infested trees and cut down only 20 at-risk trees – presumably because they were living within a few feet of the infested trees – Jersey City, with 113 infested trees, had 348 healthy but at-risk trees cut down: all the host species within a one-quarter mile radius (5). The same approach was used in Carteret in 2005: for 253 infested trees, 2,478 healthy trees were cut down. In Rahway in 2005-2006, 2,332 healthy trees were cut down for 2 infested trees. In Woodbridge in 2005, 2,125 healthy trees were cut down for 250 infested trees. Linden has taken by far the cruelest hit. To date, 15,085 healthy trees have been cut down for 111 infested trees, and another 573 trees in Linden are slated for the chainsaw between October and November 2006, according to Barry Emens (Director, USDA-NJ Cooperative ALB Eradication Program) during a meeting with a Linden resident on September 15, 2006.

In March 2005, an APHIS PPQ Weekly Notice reported the Middlesex/Union county outbreak and survey efforts “to determine the number of trees that will require removal, along with the number of non-infested susceptible host trees that will require chemical treatment. As of March 23, 2005, 2,753 trees have been removed from the Middlesex/Union counties ALB infestation site. Of those 501 were infested host trees and 2,252 were high risk exposed host trees”(7).

From 2002 to the present, federal and state agriculture officials have been cutting down “high risk exposed host trees” – healthy trees living within a one-eighth to one-quarter mile radius of an infected tree. No law authorizes them to cut these trees down.

New Jersey Law: The state law that regulates ALB quarantine procedures is N.J.A.C. 2:20-8. This law includes two relevant sections. Section 8.6(a) authorizes the Department of Agriculture to enter private property “for the removal of condemned trees,” (emphasis added). Section 8.7 requires a “written Notice of Infestation – Treatment Order” and authorizes the Department to order homeowners to “have all plant material specified in the order treated to eradicate ALB in a manner, approved by the Secretary of Agriculture, including the destruction of infected trees.” (emphasis added) As written, the law does not authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to order the destruction of healthy trees (8).

In April 2006, Department of Agriculture Secretary Charles Kuperus signed an Emergency Rule, still only authorizing the destruction of infested trees within the quarantine zone. The Emergency Rule makes no mention of the federal imidacloprid treatment protocol (3) or of cutting down healthy, at-risk trees, and states: “The most effective method to eradicate ALB is to cut and chip infested trees, and replant with non-host trees” (emphasis added)(9). The Emergency Rule expired June 13, 2006. Kuperus renewed the rule May 31, 2006 with a new expiration date of July 30, 2006 (10).

Against both the Emergency Rule, and federal protocol and practices in New York and Illinois, the Notice of Infestation and Treatment Orders given to Linden residents to cut down their healthy, treated maples, state: “The destruction of the trees and disposal of the wood is necessary to eradicate the ALB and abate this nuisance.”

Importance of an Informed, Cooperative Public: The federal-state-municipal “cooperative eradication” program relies heavily on citizen reporting of ALB sightings. In October 2002, on the occasion of finding the infested trees in Jersey City, Kuperus said: “The experience of other states has shown that public cooperation is key to effectively eradicating this highly destructive insect…”(6). The ALB Quarterly Update of May 2004 reported: “Public awareness and support is a key part to the success of the New Jersey ALB Program”(11). As the public learns more about New Jersey’s destructive policy and the likelihood that a report will lead to the wholesale cutting of healthy trees in their neighborhoods, public cooperation could decline, leading to a greater risk of infestation spreading.

Environmental Policy: Although obviously a devastating pest, the ALB has a relatively slow dispersal rate. The insects usually only travel to another location on an infested tree or to a tree very nearby to continue their year-long life cycle (12). According to a 2002 article in the scientific journal Biosis Evolutions, North American hardwood trees are more susceptible to ALB because they have not evolved “countermeasures.” In China, trees and insects engage in “step-by-step co-evolution,” developing “specific countermeasures against each other.” From a global environmental standpoint, both cutting down potential hosts and applying pesticide rob the trees and insects of this evolutionary opportunity, increasing the odds for pesticide-resistant beetles, decreasing the genetic diversity of hardwood trees in North America, and robbing humans of the chance to discover the trees’ natural resistance mechanisms (in addition to biological control methods such as parasitic wasps and nematodes, currently under investigation) that could provide a win-win-win situation for humans, trees and beetles (13).

The USDA’s current practice in New Jersey, which is not in line with the federal protocol, is: if an egg site has been found in an infested tree, all host trees will be destroyed within one-eighth mile. If exit holes are found in an infested tree, then all host trees within one-quarter mile get cut down. This is regardless of whether the trees are healthy or have been previously chemically protected. By all means cut down infested trees; they are a danger to the environment. But let’s save our healthy ones. If the ALB continues to move and “five beetles are still unaccounted for,” (as Emens said 9/15/06) then more healthy trees will be destroyed in more New Jersey communities, based on the current plan.

Conclusion: It’s not too late for Linden. If you act now, you can put a stop to this tree-killing program. To date more than 15,000 full-grown healthy trees have been cut down in Linden, changing the city’s character irrevocably. If they continue this policy, Linden certainly will not be a Tree City U.S.A. next year. But you can save the next 573 trees slated to be axed this fall. As representatives of the people of Linden, you should be protecting your taxpaying citizens’ property against this unnecessary onslaught. It is time the citizens of New Jersey were informed about the USDA cut-down policy for New Jersey, the federal imidacloprid policy, and the opportunity to implement the successful tree-saving programs that have been used in New York and Illinois. I urge you to look into this matter immediately and save the remaining host trees of Linden. Act now before one more healthy tree is cut down.


Mayor of Linden
Hon. John Gregorio
301 North Wood Ave.
Linden NJ 07036

Assemblyman Linda Stender
1801 East Second St.2nd Floor
Scotch Plains, NJ 07076

Assemblyman Jerry Green
17 Watchung Ave.
Plainfield, NJ 07060

NJ Senator Nicholas Scutari
1514 East Saint Georges Ave.2nd Floor
Linden, NJ 07036

Jon Corzine, Governor
Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 001
Trenton NJ 08625

Senator Frank Lautenberg
324 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Senator Robert Menendez
502 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC 20510

Linden is split between 7th, 10th and 13th (vacant) Congressional Districts
Representative Michael Ferguson
214 Cannon House Office Building
Washington DC 20515

Representative Donald Payne
2209 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Christine Markham
National ALB Program Director
Eastern Region
920 Main Campus Dr.
Suite 200
Raleigh NC 27606

Barry Emens
USDA - NJ Cooperative ALB Eradication Program
1447 Pinewood St.
Rahway NJ 07065

Greg Resntscheler
Assistant Director
USDA - NJ Cooperative ALB Eradication Program
1447 Pinewood St.
Rahway NJ 07065

Elisandra Sanchez
PPQ Officer
USDA - NJ Cooperative ALB Eradication Program
1447 Pinewood St.
Rahway NJ 07065

Carl P. Schulze, Jr.
Director, Division of Plant Industry
Charles M. Kuperus, Secretary
New Jersey Department of Agriculture
P.O. Box 330
Trenton NJ 08625


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