Thursday March 25, 2010

SHEFFIELD

Picture this: you have lived in your neighborhood for decades and one morning you wake up to an unrecognizable scene: there are no trees on your entire block. Over the past year and a half, that is the nightmare many residents of Worcester have experienced. Many of the city's beautiful tree-lined streets have been turned into stark, naked concrete because of an insect smaller than your thumb -- the Asian longhorned beetle.

No one wants to see this problem spread across Western Massachusetts and to the Berkshires, so now is the time to do something.

Back in August of 2008, Donna Massie noticed a striking, shiny, black-and-white insect with long antennae in her Worcester backyard. Instead of ignoring it, Donna sought to find out what it was. Her curiosity sparked an effort that may save the forests of New England by eradicating the Asian longhorned beetle while it's still limited to urban and suburban areas.

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Native to Asia, the beetle bores into and kills many types of North American trees. Because these beetles didn't evolve here, they have no effective natural predators in our forests. The few tools that we can use against them are destructive and expensive, making prevention and early action the key to averting widespread devastation of backyard trees and wild forests. The efforts to stop the spread of the pest have so far focused on the removal of about 25,000 trees in a 66-square-mile zone that includes parts of Worcester, Holden, Boylston, West Boylston and Shrewsbury.

Earlier this year the effort to fight off the beetle got a boost when the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would put up $41.5 million to expand programs to contain and eradicate the beetle. The money would also go toward inoculating tens of thousands of trees and replacing many others that have already been destroyed by the pest. While this funding is a huge win for the communities of Massachusetts, it's not the only weapon in this fight.

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Another attribute that makes the Asian longhorned beetle particularly devastating is that it eats virtually all hardwoods and it doesn't mind traveling to reach its next leafy victim. One way that the beetle has been known to reach new areas is through the transportation of firewood. Educating people about the danger of transporting firewood is another critical aspect to make sure the Asian longhorned beetle doesn't make its way to the forests of Western Massachusetts.

You can help in this fight by sharing with your friends the importance of not moving firewood, and by learning to recognize the signs of Asian longhorned beetles and keeping watch for them in your community. The containment of this infestation is critical not only to sustain the beauty of the Berkshires and our New England landscape, but also to protect the foundations of the region's economy, including clean water, timber, maple syrup and even tourism, which gets a big boost from our maples' fall colors.

If you think you have spotted the Asian longhorned beetle do what Donna Massie did and call The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources at (866) 702-9938. All of New England will thank you.

Wayne Klockner is the director of the Nature Conservancy's Massachusetts Chapter. Frank Lowenstein is the director of the same group's Forest Health Program based in Sheffield. A new documentary called "Lurking in the Trees," produced in part by The Nature Conservancy is now scheduled to air around the country. For a complete list of air dates and for more information logon to www.lurkinginginthetrees.org.