Tree-Killing Beetles at R.I.'s Doorstep

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Where are the Asian long-horned beetles? They aren't in Rhode Island yet, but officials are prepared for their eventual arrival, perhaps from Worcester, Mass., where they were discovered in a woodpile in 2008. It’s suspected they traveled to the United States aboard wooden pallets from China as far back as 15 years ago.

New Jersey, Manhattan and Staten Island have eradicated the tree-killing beetle. The Worcester area and Clermont County, Ohio, are running quarantine eradication programs. The Worcester infestation covers 110 square miles, and so far, 33,636 trees have been cleared, mostly maples, which the beetles prefer. In all, 13 tree varieties are at-risk.

Eradication involves cutting, chipping or burning infected trees as well as those within a half-mile radius of an infestation. High-risk trees that are spared the saw receive injections of the insecticide imidacloprid, a pesticide associated with bee colony collapses. The pesticide has not been used during the last two years in Worcester County. New infestations are still being found in the region.

The arrival of Asian long-horned beetles is nearly inevitable. “We’re just waiting for them to come to Rhode Island,” said Brian Maynard, professor of horticulture at the University of Rhode Island.

Catherine Sparks of the state Bureau of Natural Resources said Rhode Island is aggressively preparing for the appearance of the insect and is creating a response strategy.

The state's response to any plant-pest emergency will be coordinated with federal agencies, Sparks said. The extermination program includes outreach to the affected community and the state as a whole. A perimeter, called a delimiting survey, is the first step to assess the scope of infestation and determine other actions. The state Division of Agriculture will take the lead with assistance from the Division of Forestry. "Depending upon the pest that may be discovered, appropriate regulatory process will kick in," Sparks said.

Officials are also on high alert for the emerald ash borer. The tiny beetle has encircled Rhode Island, infesting 19 states and the provinces of Quebec and Ontario. The ash borer were discovered in North America in 2002 in Michigan. They also likely arrived from Asia in wood cargo packaging. They move east at a rate of about 150 miles per year. The emerald ash borer feeds on all types of ash trees in North America. Rhode Island’s white and green ash trees are likely hosts.

John Campanini, technical director at the Rhode Island Tree Council, said the long-horned beetle would be more devastating for the state than the ash borer, which is more likely to arrive first. "It's much more mobile. It's sturdier flyer," he said.

Both insects have expanded their territories by traveling in firewood. Officials recommend only buying local firewood.

Here is a helpful website about the Asian long-horned beetle. More information about the emerald ash borer can be found here.