Crowley demands share of federal beetle-fighting funds

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Two borough congressman warned that the Asian Longhorned beetle could devastate the Queens economy and significantly diminish tree growth if the federal government does not come through with $46 million to combat the bug infestation.

U. S. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Kew Gardens) and Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said they wrote a letter to the federal Office of Management and Budget requesting that Queens and Brooklyn get a portion of the federal funds allocated to eliminating the bug.

In a joint release, the congressmen assailed the July decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to not fund extermination projects for the beetle in Queens and Brooklyn. Both boroughs have yet to receive any federal funds to fight the beetle infestation, while Manhattan, Long Island, New Jersey and Illinois have already received portions of $11 million.

"Brooklyn and Queens have been fighting the Asian Longhorned beetle for longer and harder than just about any other community in the United States," Weiner said. "For the Bush administration to cut funding to these long-suffering communities now is an outrage. It's time for the OMB to step up to the plate so that we can stamp out this scourge."

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, then was found near the Queens Botanical Garden last year and in Forest Park in April.

The 1-inch 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.

Weiner and Crowley said the federal Animal Plant Health Inspection Agency estimated $46 million is needed to fight the beetle in Queens and Brooklyn. New York had its budget to fight the beetle infestation slashed last year from $32 million to $11 million, according to the congressmen.

In the letter, the congressmen cited a Department of Agriculture report claiming an Asian Longhorned beetle outbreak could be worse than past outbreaks of Dutch elm disease, chestnut blight and gypsy moths combined. They said if left unchecked, the beetles could damage the timber, commercial fruit and tourism industries in the borough and city.

"It is time to battle the beetle and not wait for the worst case scenario," Crowley said. "Congress has recognized the threat that this pest is to the trees of New York, and now the White House should release the necessary funds to kill off this bug and protect our treasured parks and greenspaces before we lose them all."

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Updated 7:24 pm, October 10, 2011
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