A war was declared in New Jersey that very few New Jersey residents ever heard about. In 2002, the discovery of the Asian Long Horned Beetle could have seen devastation to hardwood trees in New Jersey if the Department of Agriculture had not reacted as quickly and effectively as it did. An infestation of this nonnative species while appeared apocalyptic to the local communities that were affected, the plan to aggressively eliminate the host trees surrounding the area worked in preventing the beetle from escaping and ruining the hardwoods of the highlands and central part of the state. Over 100,000 trees were taken down, chipped and then incinerated to ensure that the insects eggs and subsequent generations were eliminated. Peter’s Todd Tree Service, the sister company of Statile & Todd Landscaping played a critical role in the five year battle.
“If you took a cross section of a tree infested by Asian long-horned beetles, it would look like Swiss cheese,” said Rhonda Santos, a spokeswoman for the federal Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
But this month, New Jersey declared victory in its war against the Asian long-horned beetle, an invasive, hardwood-eating insect that arrived on the shores of New York City in 1996, most likely on wood pallets. The beetle has since surfaced in a total of five states and, by tunneling through tree trunks, has threatened some of the nation’s most common tree species, including maples, London planes, birches and poplars.
More than 20,000 trees were removed in New Jersey during the struggle, but — knock on wood — the beetles are now vanquished from the Garden State. “It shows that the program works,” said Paul J. Kurtz, a state entomologist who led the eradication effort. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years nonstop, so it’s a little weird that it’s over. But at the same time, it’s like, ‘Wow, we did it.’ ”
New Jersey was the second state, after Illinois, to announce its ouster of the beetle, which is black with white spots and has long antennas resembling horns. Massachusetts, New York and Ohio are still in the fight, with federal, state and local officials using a combination of techniques, including tree removals, insecticide injections, public education and surveillance.
The beetles lay their eggs inside the bark of the tree, and after the eggs hatch, larvae feed on the trunk’s hardwood. “It kills a tree by eating the wood from the inside out,” said Rhonda Santos, a spokeswoman for the federal Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “If you took a cross section of a tree infested by Asian long-horned beetles, it would look like Swiss cheese.”
In New Jersey, the beetle was first detected in 2002 in Jersey City, in Hudson County, where 113 trees were found to be infested. But a separate and more serious outbreak occurred in Carteret in 2004. A homeowner there called the state to report a strange-looking insect in his yard. Mr. Kurtz dropped what he was doing to investigate. After confirming that it was, in fact, the Asian long-horned beetle, Mr. Kurtz appeared on the local news to alert the public. During the broadcast, a woman from West Carteret called the hot line to report that she, too, had spotted the invader.
“We went out to see and, sure enough, the lady’s trees were covered with hundreds of exit holes,” Mr. Kurtz said of the telltale pockmark, measuring three-eighths of an inch in diameter, through which the adult beetle emerges from the trunk. State officials discovered over 600 infested trees, in Carteret and the neighboring municipalities of Linden, Rahway and Woodbridge.
During the next two years, New Jersey’s agriculture officials delineated a 25-square-mile quarantine zone across the four communities, which include both industrial and residential neighborhoods, and inspected 129,686 trees. Officials urged the public not to transport firewood, the main way the beetles are spread. Workers removed not only infested trees, but also a wide swath of nearby trees that were at high risk. Here in Linden, for example, only 11 infested trees were discovered, but 14,894 trees, including many saplings, were cut down. The trees were then chipped and burned.
“It’s because of the host ratio,” Mr. Kurtz said, referring to the number of trees in proximity to an infested tree that are potential hosts. “If you’re in an area that has a higher host ratio, you’ll be removing more trees.”
The Department of Environmental Protection replanted about one-third of the trees that were removed, favoring species that are not attractive to the beetle. “Sometimes it may seem a little draconian,” Mr. Kurtz said, “but in Jersey City you would never know we were there.”
The last live beetle in New Jersey was seen in 2006, but state and federal agriculture officials require localities to go through three “confirmation cycles” in which no invasive species are found, which can take years.
Across the Hudson River, officials are making their own progress in New York City, where the beetle was first detected in the United States in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. In New York State, the pest is now found in every borough of New York City except the Bronx, and in Suffolk County. A federal study found that 43 percent of the city’s 5.2 million trees were “potentially impacted” by the pest, said Matthew P. Wells, director of tree preservation for the city’s parks department.
Since the discovery in Brooklyn, workers have removed 12,749 infested and high-risk trees from the four boroughs, treated 588,000 others with insecticide and carried out 1.2 million inspections. The last beetles were seen in 2010. As a result, the city is poised to proclaim a partial victory. Ms. Santos, of the Agriculture Department, expected the city to announce the beetle’s eradication from Staten Island and Manhattan by summer.
Just because New Jersey has conquered the Asian long-horned beetle does not mean that Mr. Kurtz is idle. “If you’re not minding the store,” he said, “someone else could come in.” He was referring to the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect and fast flier that attacks ash trees and is now in 18 states, including Pennsylvania and New York. “It’s inevitable,” he said of the ash borer’s arrival. “We’re surrounded.”