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Invasion of the Beetles

Around 1996, New York City was invaded by beetles. No, we’re not talking about the British invasion led by the Liverpudlian singing group. This is the Asian Longhorned Beetle, an exotic, invasive insect pest that is a serious threat to hardwood trees, such as maple and birch. And, unfortunately, such trees are very common in the city – and on the property of cooperatives and condominiums.

Robert D’Amico, a manager for Mark Greenberg Real Estate, learned about the Asian Longhorned Beetle the hard way. He’s the onsite agent at Georgetown Mews, a 930-unit co-op in Queens. About three years ago, some trees on the co-op’s extensive 60-acre grounds were found to be infested and had to be removed. D’Amico says he knew some trees were dying, but didn’t know why. Now he does.

As D’Amico learned, Asian Long-horned Beetles destroy the trees they infest by eating them from the inside out. According to fact sheets issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the adult female Asian Longhorned Beetle chews depressions into a tree’s bark in which she lays her eggs. The worm-like, immature beetles hatch and tunnel into the tree, where, all fall and winter, they feed on tissue that carries food and water from the tree’s roots to its leaves. In spring, the adult beetles emerge out of deep, perfectly round exit holes about the size of a pencil. Infested trees eventually wither and die.

Why are Asian Longhorned Beetles such a threat? According to the APHIS fact sheets, they face no natural predator in the U.S. While the pesticide imidacloprid is being used “to protect trees from becoming infested,” it isn’t 100 percent effective, reports Joseph P. Gittleman, co-director of the Asian Longhorned Beetle Cooperative Eradication Program. And once a tree is infested, it can’t be treated with pesticide, he adds. Currently, the only ways to deal with an infested tree is to burn it or cut it down and chip it.

According to the APHIS fact sheets, the Asian Longhorned Beetle was first discovered in New York City in August 1996 in Greenpoint. Other infestations have since been discovered throughout the New York City metropolitan area, including parts of Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, the southern borders of Nassau and Suffolk counties in Long Island, and Union and Middlesex counties in New Jersey.

The infested areas have been quarantined, which means that federal and state regulations are in effect to control the handling and movement of wood within and out of those areas, says Gittleman. (To download a map of the quarantined zones, go to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation website at www.nycgovparks.org.)

The purpose of these regulations is to prevent and limit the spread of Asian Longhorned Beetles. If they were allowed to go outside the quarantined areas, they could destroy hardwood forests and severely hurt the maple syrup/sugar, lumber, tourism, and furniture industries.

That’s why Gittleman’s program was established. Run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the New York Department of Agriculture and Markets, it is designed to eradicate the beetles by imposing quarantines on infested areas, visually inspecting trees to determine if they’re infested, removing and properly disposing of sick trees, and treating high-risk ones to prevent infestation. The program is currently treating trees in the Upper East Side and the northern end of Brooklyn. The priority is treating wood in known infested areas and in places that were infested in the past.

Although Gittleman’s program has a dedicated staff, the members “rely on the public’s cooperation,” he says. So what can your co-op or condo do to help prevent the spread of Asian Longhorned Beetles? In addition to keeping your eyes open for the insects – call 1-877-STOP-ALB if you see one – Gittleman and D’Amico suggest that you do the following:

Have your manager and/or super attend a compliance-training workshop. Gittleman’s program runs compliance-training workshops for professionals who handle or dispose of wood, such as landscapers, tree-trimmers, and carters. But anyone can attend the workshops. And if your co-op or condo handles its landscaping in-house, he recommends that you send your property manager and/or superintendent to a workshop. That’s because if your staff improperly moves wood out of the quarantined area, you’ll be violating state and federal laws.

D’Amico and his superintendent recently attended a compliance-training workshop. Although he wasn’t looking forward to going, D’Amico now says that it was very informative and “not boring at all.” He learned what Asian Longhorned Beetles look like and how to spot them and the damage they cause. The workshops, which are free and about two hours long, also cover the boundaries of the quarantined areas and the legal handling of wood within those areas. Workshop attendees get a compliance agreement, which shows that they’ve been trained in properly handling and disposing of wood debris.

Although the compliance-training workshop is structured for landscapers and other professionals who regularly handle wood, D’Amico recommends that co-ops and condos have their property managers and superintendents attend one. He believes that “nine out of ten managers aren’t even aware that the beetle exists.” He admits that he only knows about Asian Longhorned Beetles because of the infestation at his property.

(There are compliance training workshops scheduled for July 20 at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens; August 17 at the Babylon Town Hall Annex; November 2 at the New York City Division of Forestry; and December 14 at the Massapequa Park Town Hall. For more information, call 631-598-5943.)

Use only contractors who have compliance agreements. Gittleman recommends that co-ops and condos that don’t handle their landscaping in-house hire only contractors that have compliance agreements to do so. All landscapers, tree-trimmers, and other contractors who handle wood debris within the quarantined areas must have compliance agreements. If they fail to properly handle and dispose of wood debris in those areas, they could be fined. Buildings aren’t currently required to use contractors that have compliance agreements, but D’Amico thinks it’s just a matter of time before that changes. Gittleman notes that if your co-op or condo hires a contractor who improperly disposes of wood from the quarantined area, you possibly might be held liable for that violation. So D’Amico suggests that co-ops and condos ask landscapers if they have a compliance agreement as part of the hiring or screening process.

Comply with the city’s wood debris removal procedures. In Manhattan, Queens, and Brooklyn, homeowners, including co-ops and condos, must comply with the city’s wood debris removal procedures when disposing of branches, tree trimmings, firewood, and other wood debris. (These regulations don’t apply to Christmas trees, which are softwood, notes Gittleman.) The Department of Sanitation no longer collects wood debris in those counties. Instead, you should call 311 to arrange for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation to pick up and chip any wood debris. (For more information on the wood debris removal procedures, call 311 or go to the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation website.)

Give inspectors access to property. Gittleman says that it’s “very important” for co-ops and condos to give inspectors access to all the trees on their properties, including those on penthouse terraces and in rooftop gardens. D’Amico notes that it’s “better for you and the community” when inspectors can inspect your trees and remove any infested ones from your property. If they can catch the infestation early, you won’t lose as many trees, he explains.

Gittleman says that the inspectors try to notify buildings in advance, However, that is not always possible. But you can set up an appointment for an inspection at your co-op or condo. D’Amico says the inspection at his co-op wasn’t a “big deal.” The inspectors had IDs showing that they were federal employees. He had them sign in and out.

The inspectors will visually inspect all trees on your property, including those in gardens and on balconies, explains Gittleman. If inspectors find an infested one, they remove and destroy it, at no cost. They’ll then put you on the list for a free replacement tree. These won’t be hardwood.

There are currently no fines or penalties for refusing to give the program’s inspectors access to your property, says Gittleman. However, if you refuse repeated requests for such access, the program will forward the building’s information to the program’s legal counsel in Albany. And eventually a court will issue a warrant ordering you to give the inspectors access. So, as one former Beatle put it, “Let ’em in.”

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