No new tree beetles have been found, but search continues

By Brian MacQuarrie and Marissa Lang
Globe Staff | Globe Correspondent / July 15, 2010

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The hunt for the Asian longhorned beetle took yesterday off because of wet weather, but no more of the tree-destroying pests have been discovered since six infested red maples were cut down last week near Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain.

Still, state officials are reluctant to proclaim victory in a massive search-and-destroy mission that is expected to continue for months and cover more than 100,000 trees in the 10 square miles around the hospital.

“It’s too soon to be optimistic or pessimistic,’’ said Wendy Fox, spokeswoman for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. “Obviously, everybody hopes there won’t be any more found.’’

Surveyors are close to completing inspections for one-eighth mile in all directions from the site where about 10 adult beetles and 40 younger beetles were removed July 6, said Clint McFarland of the US Department of Agriculture, who is the federal program manager for the beetle eradication effort here. Inspections also are underway on every vulnerable tree in the Arnold Arboretum.

“Not having found anything yet immediately around that infestation point is a good sign for us,’’ McFarland said.

“This is painstaking work,’’ Fox said. To date, 1,600 trees have been surveyed.

Environmental officials said at an informational meeting last night at Brookline Town Hall that the public can spot possible beetle infestations in maple trees and other vulnerable species.

Residents should call a special hot line at 866-702-9938 if they notice holes surrounded by an orange coloring in trees, officials said.

McFarland said stringy material known as frass, or beetle excrement, located at the base of a tree or where its branches are touching the trunk, is also a sign of infestation.

Brookline tree warden and town arborist Thomas D. Brady urged the crowd of about 40 to call the hot line if they see any warning signs, rather than going public before a confirmed infestation. He said a recent report, which circulated in a mass e-mail, of 10 Asian longhorned beetles discovered near Emerson Park was unfounded.

“Before you send out a large e-mail, pick up the phone and call us,’’ he said.

Homeowners can also purchase a chemical at hardware stores called imidactoprid, which can help prevent beetle infestation, McFarland said.

But, he added, residents should only put the directed amount of the substance on their trees. The chemical will not save a tree that beetles have already infested, he said.

The beetles, which have no known predators in the United States, might have entered the country in wood pallets from China, officials have speculated. Two years ago, an infestation in Worcester prompted the destruction of 25,000 hardwood trees at a cost to taxpayers of $50 million.

So far, the latest discovery has produced more pins-and-needles worry than widespread panic about the fate of the area’s maple, elm, willow, birch, horse chestnut, poplar, and mimosa trees.

Fern Beck, 56, a management consultant and avid gardener from Brookline, said she was “very concerned about the beetle problem’’ as she walked a dog near Cypress Street.

James Hunt, chief of environment and energy for the city of Boston, described himself as “extremely hopeful that this is an isolated and contained infestation.’’

“All the signs to date are positive, but we are very early in this process,’’ Hunt said. “We need to take every precaution, particularly at this early stage, to ensure that Boston’s urban forest resources are protected.’’

Discussions are under way with state and federal authorities, Hunt added, about a plan to resume leaf and yard-waste collection next week for 60,000 city residents who live in the affected area. The city’s trash haulers had been instructed not to pick up such trash after the beetles were found in Jamaica Plain.

The waste will be processed quickly, Hunt said, in an effort to ensure that potential sources of the beetles are destroyed.

Authorities are searching for a site where private industry, such as landscapers and arborists, can bring wood to be chipped, McFarland said. An option to locate the site in Franklin Park was shelved this week after park advocates and nearby residents voiced concerns about noise and heavy traffic.

Other concerns were on the mind of Darlene Ayers, 70, as she walked around Jamaica Pond. When she learned that longhorned beetles had been discovered, Ayers recalled, “I thought, oh, my goodness, the Arboretum is just across the road.’’

Ayers, a Jamaica Plain resident who volunteers for the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, is worried.

“It makes my heart ache, thinking that the trees could be in danger,’’ Ayers said. “I saw this pretty little orange bug the other day, and I couldn’t help think, ‘Are you good or are you bad?’ ’’

Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at; Marissa Lang at

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