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Feds skip boro in treating trees against Asian beetles

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Efforts to immunize trees against the Asian Longhorned beetle are being concentrated in Manhattan and Long Island this year, with no inoculations against the tree-killing pest scheduled for Queens, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials said this week.

Budget cuts have forced the USDA to reroute funds within the beetle’s New York-area quarantine zone to Manhattan and Islip in an effort to contain the insect in a swath from the city’s western border to surrounding points east, said USDA spokesman Daniel Parry.

“The funding for Queens and Brooklyn wasn’t specifically eliminated,” said Parry, explaining that money for the beetle eradication program is not allocated per borough but rather routed wherever it is most needed.

Parry said New York state had received $32 million to combat the beetle last year, compared with just $11 million this year due to federal budget reductions.

Joseph Gittleman, co-director of the USDA’s Cooperative Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program, said the effort consisted of two main activities: immunizing healthy trees with pesticide injections and chopping down ones that were already infested with the beetles.

While tree immunizations will only be conducted in Manhattan and Islip, Queens will continue to benefit from aggressive inspections on public and private property as well as swift removal of infested trees, said Gittleman. But the inspections have been scaled down to ground level instead of higher-canopy observations.

“This would be our third successive year of controlled treatments in Manhattan, and we didn’t want to lose that continuity,” Gittleman said.

The pest, which first appeared in the United States in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, was first seen in Queens in Ridgewood and Sunnyside in 1997. It made its way to Flushing and Bayside in 1999, was found near the Queens Botanical Garden last year and in Forest Park this past April.

The 1-inch-long black bug with long antennae and white spots kills trees by burrowing into the wood to lay eggs. The resulting holes prevent the trees from photosynthesizing, causing them to die.

Gittleman said so far this year in Queens, about 400 trees in Forest Park had been treated with insecticide as part of a pilot program to test different immunization techniques. He said that had been done mostly for research purposes and was not intended as a large-scale coverage effort.

Gittleman said 26 infested trees in the borough had been cut down this year, including 13 in Forest Park and 13 in the Kew Gardens Hills area.

The latter group was cut in the Georgetown Mews co-op complex across from the Queens College campus as well as on public and private property in the surrounding area, Gittleman said.

Joan Mahoney, the eradication program’s other co-director, said an additional 12 infested trees in Calvary Cemetery had been cut.

Fiona Watt, chief of forestry and horticulture for the city Parks Department, said Queens and Brooklyn contained a high percentage of trees favored by the beetle, such as Norway maple and London pine, in close proximity to each other.

The absence of tree inoculations in the borough “pushes back our eradication timeline several years,” he said.

In order for an area to be declared officially rid of the pest, four years must pass without its being found, Parry said.

Gittleman said the vast majority of anti-Asian beetle funding comes from the federal government, since the bug is an exotic pest not native to the United States. The state provides some matching funds for eradication programs and the city also apportions a very small amount, he said.

“It’s a constant battle,” said City Councilman Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach), chairman of the Parks Committee. “Obviously we would like to get our fair share. As the fight for the pie gets smaller and smaller … we fight for every crumb we can get.”

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:23 pm, October 10, 2011
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