Beetle hunt, wood ban to last years

July 23, 2010
By

John Ruch

Chipping site to be set up

No new cases of the tree-killing Asian longhorn beetle (ALB) have been found in Jamaica Plain since ALB was discovered in six Faulkner Hospital trees on July 5, officials announced at a heavily attended July 13 community meeting at Franklin Park. That means the ALB infestation may be safely isolated from JP’s famous green spaces.

But the hunt for ALBs likely will last four years or more—and so will a state ban on moving wood out of a restricted area that covers most of JP. Previous successful ALB eradications have taken six to 10 years, officials said.

“You will see us in the upcoming months and years” examining local trees, said Clint McFarland an ALB eradication expert with the US Department of Agriculture. “This never, ever ends, our hunt for the beetle.”

A large wood-chipping site also must be set up and operate for that period to destroy any waste wood—which could contain ALBs—from landscapers and other contractors. A proposal to put that site temporarily on Circuit Drive in Franklin Park has been withdrawn after community oppositions, officials said at the meeting.

The site needs to be at least a quarter-acre in size, available for tractor-trailer access, and will have an industrial-sized wood-chipper operating from July 1 through Nov. 1. Officials told the Gazette that they have no candidate sites in mind, though parking lots and current city and state wood-chipping sites run by a private contractor on American Legion Highway near the Boston Nature Center are possibilities. There is also some discussion of using part of the Arborway Yard MBTA bus facility.

Special yard-waste collection rules will apply in the restricted area for the duration. Basically, any type of waste wood, such as fallen branches, has to be put at the curb in a separate paper leaf bag or marked barrel. Yard waste cannot be mixed with regular trash. [See JP Agenda.]

Officials have begun a long process of examining every possible ALB-hosting tree in the area, and will have to repeat the search three times over years to be sure the beetles are not there. Meanwhile, residents are urged to examine their own trees.

Any tree found with ALBs must be cut down and destroyed.

The ALB is a large black or iridescent-blue beetle with white spots and long antennae. The classic sign of ALB infestation in a tree is a perfectly round hole in the bark about the size of a pencil eraser. Other signs can include divots eaten into the bark, and piles of thin, mulch-like strands of wood material at the base of a tree.

Anyone who thinks they may have found evidence of ALB in a tree should call a state hotline at 866-702-9938.

For detailed information on ALB and the hunt, see the web sites MassNRC.org/pests/ALB and Beetlebusters.info. The Gazette will provide any updated information at JamaicaPlainGazette.com.

The central Massachusetts city of Worcester has been fighting a massive ALB infestation for two years, which has involved cutting down nearly 30,000 trees as a devastating preventative measure. At the July 13 meeting, local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez said that his colleagues from Worcester warned him that good communication from government officials is crucial, but often fell through the cracks during the ALB battle there.

Sánchez told the Gazette that communication has been relatively good so far. But direct outreach to residents has been spotty. The state distributed a detailed ALB flyer on some streets near the Arboretum the day after the infestation was announced. But most of the area has not been flyered, including Sánchez’s Malcolm Road home just behind Faulkner.

Sánchez created his own informational flyer this week and is distributing it neighborhood-wide.

The ALB hunt is moving quickly and its tactics are still being developed. Other key information as of this week includes:

• The ban on transporting wood covers an area in a 1.5-mile radius from Faulkner Hospital at Centre and Allandale streets in Jamaica Hills. That includes most of JP and parts of Roslindale, West Roxbury and Brookline. The ban means that wood products and debris can come in, but cannot go out and cannot be hauled around inside the area without state permission. Contractors will be able to get state permission, but first the wood-chipping site needs to be set up, among other details.

• The wood transportation ban applies to: Firewood of any kind; and any living or dead piece of wood larger than a half-inch in diameter from the following kinds of trees: maple, horse chestnut, mimosa, birch, hackberry, ash, sycamore, poplar, willow, mountain ash, elm and katsura. It is also illegal to transport any ALB or its larvae. Chemically treated or pressed wood, such as the kinds used in construction, are not covered by the ban because beetles cannot survive in them.

• Violating the wood transport ban is a state and federal crime with fines up to $250,000. However, it is enforced only by the tiny state Environmental Police unit. The ban will rely largely on education instead of enforcement, and on resident tips of violators. The Environmental Police number is 800-632-8075.

• The city-collected yard waste actually will be shipped out of the restricted area, but under federal guidelines, according to Jim Hunt, the city’s chief of environmental and energy services. Some will be chipped at the American Legion Highway facilities, and some will go to a trash incinerator in Saugus. The separate collection allows wood materials to be inspected for ALB if necessary and limits the chance that trash handlers will spread any ALB. “If you put [yard waste] in the regular trash, it can end up in New Hampshire” or other distant locations where it will not be immediately destroyed, Hunt told the Gazette.

• The ALB search will include trees on private property. Residents will be asked first for access whenever possible. If an ALB infestation is found in a privately owned tree, the state still has the authority to cut down the tree and will replace it. However, resident cooperation is always asked for first.

• The ALB eradication plan will include using pesticides on certain trees at certain times in the spring. No details of that plan are in place yet.

• ALBs only infest certain kinds of trees, including those covered by the wood transportation ban. Immune types of trees include conifer, oak, apple, crabapple and any tree with pitted fruit, such as cherry. That means that some parts of JP’s major green spaces, such as the oak-lined Arborway, are immune to ALBs.

• Officials have examined 1,643 trees so far in the area of Faulkner Hospital, the Italian Home for Children, Arnold Arboretum, Allandale Farm and some residential properties. Arnold Arboretum also is conducting its own examinations, and has done so before. The official hunt will expand outward from that area.

• ALB larvae kill trees by burrowing deep into their heartwood. It is a slow process and the beetle is “lazy” and does not spread rapidly under normal conditions, officials said. It is unclear how the ALB got to Faulkner Hospital and the possibilities are numerous. The method almost certainly involved the unintentional assistance of humans who transported wood or ALBs. The ALB infestation at Faulkner was at least two years old.

Best of JP 2014