THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Common found free of beetle infestation

By Alex Katz
Globe Correspondent / June 24, 2010

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There was a collective sigh of relief on Boston Common yesterday after volunteers were unable to find any traces of the devastating Asian longhorned beetle, a species that has forced the removal of thousands of trees in the Worcester area over the last two years.

“Our goal was not to find any, but to work hard looking for them,’’ said Elizabeth Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden, the group that organized the inspection.

More than 20 volunteers from the Boston area assisted. Equipped with binoculars and maps of the park, they inspected almost 40 trees in search of any sign of the beetles, which are native to China and typically arrive here in solid wood material such as shipping crates.

The volunteers were searching for exit holes near the trees’ tops, a favorite spot for the insects to lay their eggs.

First discovered in Worcester in 2008, the beetles have infested more than 17,000 trees in the area since, according to Ronda Santos, a spokeswoman for the US Department of Agriculture.

In all, more than 27,000 trees have been removed, which includes 10,000 that were at risk because of their proximity to the infestation, Santos said.

“Because the level of infestation was so high, it was more than likely that those trees were infested,’’ she said.

Worcester has made a concerted reforestation effort in recent months, with almost 1,000 trees planted to replace the ones lost to infestation, according to the city manager’s office.

Still, Massachusetts has the most infested trees in the country, and more than $54 million has been appropriated in emergency funds in the event an outbreak reoccurs.

Logan Walsh of Cambridge was one of yesterday’s volunteers. After seeing the damage in Worcester, he wanted to better educate himself on preventative measures in order to protect other areas, such as the Charles River Conservancy, where he works.

“In an urban green space that’s so valuable, it would be devastating if it happened because it would affect so many people,’’ Walsh said.

The inspection was funded by the Highland Street Foundation, which gives grants to nonprofits primarily in Massachusetts. The foundation donated $100,000 to the Friends of the Public Garden in order to, among other things, set up a tree database that tracks all trees in Boston Common, the Public Garden, and the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The inventory is nearly complete and would aid in containing future infestation, Vizza said.

Alex Katz can be reached at akatz@globe.com.

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