Imagine watching crews cut down every single tree on your street. Now, imagine living in Worcester, MA, where they’ve had to destroy about 25,000 trees so far. The culprit is this creature, the Asian longhorn beetle or ALB, and it could be coming soon to a forest near you.
After hitching a ride in wooden pallets, these insects, which come from China and Korea, proceeded to decimate trees in New York, Chicago, parts of New Jersey and Toronto, Canada. Now they’re here in the Northeast, and if they spread, they could destroy forests from New England to Canada.
The beetles lay their eggs just under the bark, and the larvae spend the winter feeding on living tree tissue like heartwood.
In mid-summer, (just about now) the beetles emerge from perfectly round holes, which are about the size of a dime. The host tree is killed in a couple of years. Officials are trying to eradicate the ALB with pesticides and by cutting and chipping all trees in affected areas.
Now, here’s the really scary part: firewood. The USDA estimates that the beetle went undetected in Worcester for at least ten years. That means firewood from the affected area was probably transported to other parts of New England. Here in Rhode Island, we’ve already had a problem with ALB-infected firewood. Two RI companies were fined nearly $2,000 each for transporting 11 ash trees from the quarantined area in Worcester to North Kingstown. A bill has been introduced in the RI Senate that would make this a crime, and raise fines to up to $25,000. ALB-infected firewood was also found at a home in Cranston. The homeowners had brought the wood from their property in Worcester.
Officials admit that it’s highly likely that the beetle has already escaped from the quarantined area. The question is, where will it show up next? With one third of the trees in the northeast at risk, the stakes are frighteningly high. People like us – gardeners who care about trees – can help by doing two things: first, if you use firewood in your home or while camping, buy it locally – never transport it. Second, go to this USDA website to learn how to recognize the Asian longhorn beetle and to find out what to do if you find one.
Cornell University also has an excellent diagnostic website to help you determine whether you have Asian longhorn beetles on your property.