Tree-eating Asian longhorned beetles have reappeared in central Long Island, prompting state officials to expand a quarantine zone and start removing infested trees.
Federal and New York State officials have identified 497 infested trees and 41 more at a high risk of infection after a West Babylon homeowner in her backyard last summer spotted the black, bullet-shaped beetle that grows to an inch or more in length and has antennae twice as long.
Tree removal began last week along the Southern State Parkway between Route 110 and Wellwood Avenue, in pockets of infected trees found in West Babylon, Babylon-area cemeteries and at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale.
Joe Morrissey, a spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Markets, wrote in an email that the discovery of the beetle is "a setback after many years of gains against this pest in New York City and Long Island."
Hundreds of trees that are potential hosts for the beetle in central Long Island are due to be removed later this summer, he wrote.
Authorities had designated 51 square miles of the Island as a quarantine zone after a federal order this spring added northern portions of the towns of Oyster Bay, Huntington and Babylon to areas already under quarantine.
The beetle likely originated in China and found its way to Long Island in infested logs shipped to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, sometime in the 1980s, said Joseph Gittleman, a U.S. Department of Agriculture project manager in Amityville. The first sighting on Long Island was near the village of Amityville in 1996, he said. The insect soon infected a prized 200-year old elm there and moved as far east as Islip.
Extensive efforts to control its spread eradicated the beetle in Islip in 2011, but it took a toll on Long Island and New York City, forcing state workers to remove 6,793 infested trees and 12,212 non-infested high-risk trees, Morrissey wrote.
What some suburban homeowners consider an unsightly nuisance can ruin livelihoods elsewhere, Morrissey wrote.
"New York is the second largest producer of maple syrup in the country and if we allow for the spread of this invasive species from Long Island and New York City to areas upstate, it could be potentially devastating for this agricultural industry," he wrote. "We can't allow that to happen."
Trees and other woody host material for the beetles must be specially disposed of and can only be taken out of the zone after inspection, Gittleman said.
Gittleman, who called the recent beetle sightings "a major disappointment" after a roughly five-year absence, said the tree removals were timed to take place before the seasonal emergence of the adult beetles.
"We would like to get any known infested trees out of the environment and destroyed before the adult beetles get a chance to emerge," he said.
Unchecked, Gittleman said, "they will go rampant and out-compete any natural predators in the area."