Milton on Lookout for Asian Beetles
Milton's tree caretakers are taking extra precautions after the discovery earlier this week of an infestation in Jamaica Plain of the same Asian longhorned beetles that have destroyed thousands of trees in Worcester County.
Worcester and several surrounding towns have lost 25,000 hardwoods to the insect menace. Earlier this week, in the first Massachusetts sighting outside of Worcester's 74-square-mile quaratine zone, an infestation felled six trees across from the world-class Arnold Arboretum nature sanctuary in Jamaica Plain.
This latest discovery of the white-spotted Asian longhorned beetle and the subsequent removal and chipping of the infected trees only five miles from Milton on the grounds of Faulkner Hospital has stirred extra vigilance among local hardwood caretakers.
Thayer Nursery, on Hillside Street at the foot of the Blue Hills Reservation, grows many species of hardwood trees in its fields, including elm, ash, birch, maple and willow. Up until now, the nursery had little concern for the Asian beetle, instead focusing on other common insects like aphids, mites and leaf miners.
"Because we are a Massachusetts farm, we do get inspected yearly by the Department of Agricultural Resources," Maggie Oldfield, managing partner of the nursery's garden center, said in an email. "They walk around our farm inspecting for diseases and insects."
Recently the department added the longhorned beetle to its inspection list. The latest DAR check was in early June, Oldfield said, and it found Thayer Nursey "very neat and clean."
At the end of May, a coordinated search by federal and state forestry agencies failed to turn up any of the beetles at more than 200 vacation homes and campgrounds from Pennsylvania to Maine.
But now, with the insects found just a few miles away, the nursery is boosting its tree observation.
"There really is not anything we can do except to monitor our farm," Oldfield said. "We try to be as organic as possible and as of now, there is not any organic preventative for [the Asian longhorned beetle]."
The beetle, barely an inch and a half long, has devastated Worcester County residents since 2008 by boring into and killing thousands of hardwood trees. Only recently have the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture gotten a handle on the situation by way of the quarantine, keeping vigorous watch and spraying insecticides.
DCR spokeswoman Wendy Fox said the agency is encouraging keepers of hardwoods to watch for perfectly-round, pencil-sized holes that can indicate infestation in a tree. The beetles, thought to have come to the United States from China in shipping crates, kill trees by digging into their heartwood, which transfers water and nutrients to other parts of the plant.
"It's something everybody can keep an eye on," Fox said.
She also said that so far there have been no sightings of the beetle outside of Faulkner Hospital and Worcester County.
Meanwhile, the DCR has cordoned off a 1.5-mile area around the Boston infection where the transportation of firewood or other woody material is banned. Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said the state is "working as quickly as possible to determine the extent of the issue."
Joe Lynch, director of the Milton Department of Public Works, said the town's tree crews have been following state protocols for identifying invasive insects and disease for the past five years. The regulations include looking out for Asian longhorned beetles. Following this week's new sighting, identification guidelines were rebroadcast to crews, who are watching for egg masses, holes and the beetles themselves.
If infected trees are found, Lynch said, they will be removed and destroyed and the area will be quarantined.
"We went from a warning level yellow to a warning level orange," Lynch said. "We haven't gone to red because there have been no confirmed sightings [in Milton]."
Forestry officials working in Worcester have found some success fighting the beetle, which has no known predators, by removing infected trees and spraying healthy specimens with a pesticide called Imidacloprid that prevents infestation.
Anyone who thinks they've spotted a beetle can compare the insect they've found with similar-looking species at the website of the Massachusetts Introduced Pests Outreach Project. The project is a collaboration between the state DAR and the UMass Extension Agriculture and Landscape Program, funded by the USDA. The site also includes a form for reporting pests.
Oldfield said Thayer Nursery can help by staying sharp-eyed and quickly notifying officials if beetles are spotted to ensure rapid eradication.
"And probably the most important thing we can do is to replant our own landscapes with non-susceptible trees thus creating a more diverse landscape."