A Reflection on Ten Years Hunting ALB Felicia Andrade - ALB Ground Operations Supervisor
“It’s infested” exclaims my colleague. We have been called out into the field to look at suspicious damage in a maple tree. As I walk up to the tree I immediately see the exit hole and gallery. Looking around at the other maples I quickly find a second tree with similar damage. “Looks like we have another one here.” I reply. After additional survey, four trees in total were found with the classic signs of Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) in that small woodlot in Worcester. This occurred in November of 2017 and is the last time we have found ALB infested trees.
The Asian Longhorned Beetle is a 1 to 1.5 inch, shiny black insect with white spots, powder blue feet, and very long antennae. The adults emerge from inside the woody tissue of the trees starting around the beginning of July and will continue to emerge throughout the summer. Once out of the tree, the adults will do a little feeding in the canopy before mating. The females then seek out a host tree, usually a maple, and she begins chewing a small pit to lay a single egg under the bark. She will repeat this process many times, laying up to 90 eggs in her lifetime. The larvae hatch a couple of weeks later and begin feeding on the nutrient rich cambium layer. After several weeks, the larvae start their journey deeper into the woody tissue where they will feed until pupation. The pupal stage last approximately 13 to 24 days to adulthood at which time they chew straight out of the tree at a 90 degree angle leaving a perfectly round 3/8” hole behind.
It’s been 10 years since the ALB was first reported in Worcester Massachusetts and since then 24,179 ALB infested trees have been found and removed, including the four trees mentioned. Thus changed the character of the heaviest hit Worcester neighborhoods Greendale and Burncoat and leading the way for a massive reforestation effort. Those neighborhoods were the center of the infestation and nearly every single host tree, including street trees were removed to eradicate this invasive pest. Combined efforts from DCR’s ALB Reforestation program, Worcester Tree Initiative, and the city of Worcester replanted thousands of trees. Today those young trees have become established and have started to provide much needed shade and wind breaks. The discovery of ALB and the dramatic efforts needed for eradication really drew everyone’s attention to how much our trees mean to us and how trees benefit us in so many ways. Imagine for a second, what your neighborhood would look like if every maple tree had to be removed? It is a heart breaking thing to see and it is this thought that motivates and keeps the program going so that no other neighborhoods will have to suffer these loses.
How is the Asian Longhorned beetle cooperative eradication program going about eradicating this pest? To start with the program does a lot of “looking’ for the beetle. Every work day several four person ground teams head out to their assigned units and locate, measure, and view from top to bottom all ALB host trees through binoculars. There are also several climbing teams that will climb trees with suspicious damage and also climb a buffer around all infested trees. Not much has changed with this system since those early days in 2008. One thing that has changed is how the program progresses with survey units within the affected communities.
The ALB program has surveyed every host tree in the regulated area. We use current data and data from the previous years in the program to create risk modeling maps. Factors in the model include the distances from infested tree(s), firewood operation, wood storage or disposal sites, and the distance from major highways. Other factors are the level of infestation within the infested trees, wind direction, density of infested trees, host density, and the time since last survey. The goal of the risk modeling is not to guess where the beetle could go next but to tell us the likelihood of where the ALB could currently be. This allows us to utilize limited resources more efficiently, being more proactive verses reactive, and reduces the amount of time from one survey to the next time it gets surveyed. The less time an infestation has to grow equals fewer trees that are ultimately infested and removed. A great example of this is the Boston infestation. On July 3, 2010 ALB was reported at Faulkner Hospital in Boston across from the Arnold Arboretum. The initial surveys found six infested trees next to a parking lot and after four years of survey no additional signs of ALB were found. Boston was declared eradicated in May of 2014 with just the original six trees removed. Whereas, the Worcester infestation had at least 10 years for the beetle population to grow before it was reported.
Another aspect of our program is regulatory. Companies that hold a compliance agreement (firewood processing, wood storage, disposal sites, landscape, waste companies) with the ALB program agree to allow program staff to survey on their properties, both inside and outside of the regulated area. The Regulatory staff survey these locations to determine whether beetles and/or infested wood might have been moved outside of the regulated area. The regulatory staff answers and replies to all calls about possible ALB from the general public. Every effort is made to visit the location and offer additional outreach information. From July 2017 to the beginning of July 2018, almost 600 service calls were answered and recorded. Regulatory staff also do a lot of public outreach stopping and talking to folks working around host material while out on patrol on a daily basis.
Finally, an important portion of the program is outreach. The ALB program staffs informational tables at many popular events like the Big E, camping and fishing shows, Massachusetts Envirothon, and MA Tree Warden Conferences just to name a few. Other times ALB presentations are given at different public events and schools. Often times, staff are asked questions on the street or while surveying a property and they are always happy to talk about ALB. The entire program views it as an extremely important to get Asian Longhorned beetle information to as many people as possible. Spreading the most important message: Find it. Report it! There can never be too many eyes looking for the beetle especially since many of the ALB infestations have found thanks in part to reports by citizens.
So how are we doing in the battle? The answer is not a simple one. Currently the program has consistently found fewer and fewer infestations through the years and a live ALB has not been seen or turned in via ALB traps, regulatory service calls, ALB survey personnel or private citizens since 2015. We are still finding small pockets of infested trees and while all the data looks promising, we will not stop or even slow down. The goal is eradication and that’s what we aim to do. As the summer progresses please take some time to look around you. Whether at a friend’s cook out, taking a hike or just hanging out in the backyard remember that there are people working hard every day to ensure the future of our great New England forests.