Feds to use anti-beetle pesticide

April 15, 2011
By

John Ruch

The federal government is seeking to inject 3,200 trees in Jamaica Plain with pesticide to make sure a destructive beetle does not spread.

The planned use of the pesticide imidacloprid to kill off the Asian longhorn beetle (ALB) could begin in June, according to US Department of Agriculture (USDA) spokesperson Rhonda Santos. Public meetings may be held this month, and written comments are being taken through May 7.

The ALB is an invasive species that kills hardwood trees by burrowing into them. ALBs were found last summer in six trees at Faulker Hospital in Jamaica Hills. Since then, JP has been under a federal quarantine on moving wood out of the area.

The USDA has surveyed 40,000 trees with no sign of more beetles, Santos said. But “surveying isn’t perfect,” so the pesticide would be a safeguard against any lurking ALBs, she said.

The plan calls for injecting pesticide into the tree trunks or soil around the trees on more than 90 properties within a quarter-mile of Faulkner Hospital. Individual property owners would have to agree to the pesticide use, Santos said. She could not immediately comment on what would happen to the plan if many people do not give permission.

The pesticide use is being embraced by Arnold Arboretum, which has the most trees in the target area and already uses some pesticides on its property.

“Of course we’re going to go along with it,” said arboretum spokesperson Audrey Rogerson. “This is the federal government we’re talking about.”

But pesticide has long been controversial in JP. Local beekeeper Jean-Claude Bourrut said in an e-mail to the Gazette that imidacloprid is banned in parts of Europe for its suspected role in killing bee colonies.

“As a beekeeper, I am very concerned,” Bourrut wrote. “Real alternatives should be developed and used.”

The only alternative discussed in a recent USDA environmental impact assessment of the pesticide plan is doing nothing at all. That is essentially not a real alternative because the ALB is so lethal to trees and stopping it is a government mandate.

Santos said that the USDA has treated about 1 million trees nationwide with imidacloprid to ward off the ALB. She acknowledged that it can kill individual insects of other species, but said USDA surveys have found no impacts on overall populations. The pesticide is used in doses too low to harm animals and humans, she said.

“You can buy it over the counter,” Santos said of the pesticide, which is used in commercial products to kill fleas and beautify golf courses.

The environmental impact assessment for the plan can be viewed here. Comments can be e-mailed to theresa.rice@aphis.usda.gov or sent via regular mail to Theresa Rice, 4700 River Road, Unit 26, Riverdale, MD 20737.

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