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Asian longhorned beetle update from officials

It's been a long, hard battle with the Asian longhorned beetle, an insect that has killed thousands of trees affecting 13 species along the Eastern Seaboard, and spreading into Massachusetts and Ohio since the late 1990s.

Tuesday, federal, state and city officials will offer an update on their fight in New York City and Long Island to stop the spread of the parasitic bug that burrows into maple, elm and horse chestnut trees. Trees that are contaminated must be cut down and the area around them quarantined and monitored.

Ann E. Hajek of Cornell University, an expert in insect pathology, biological control and population ecology, said the infestation control has been arduous. But she said she expects good reports Tuesday that show success in removing these beetles.

"It's almost gone in New York City and New York," said Hajek, adding that Chicago and New Jersey have eradicated the beetle. Brooklyn and Queens, however, may not have seen as much progress.

"Manhattan and Staten Island are extremely close to getting out of the quarantine," said Danielle Gift, special project forester with the city's parks department. "Queens and Brooklyn will take a little longer."

Asian longhorned beetles are still a problem in Worcester, Mass., and new sightings have turned up in southern Ohio, said Hajek.

"I consider them very scary. I've been to China several times and saw these infestations. They wipe out natural forests, urban shade trees . . . millions of trees. It can be a terrible pest that is not easy to control," she said.

The Asian longhorned beetle was first sighted in 1996 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The bugs are believed to have been brought over from China in shipping pallets.

The beetles burrow into branches high up in the canopy of parkland and into tree trunks to lay their eggs. When the beetles mature, they eat their way out of the tree, said Hajek.

In 2011, the Asian longhorned beetle infestation was declared eradicated in Islip. Currently, about 135 square miles in New York City and central Long Island are still considered infested.

Brian Zitani, Town of Babylon waterway and management supervisor, said there had been "no new sightings." He said neighboring towns including Babylon were diligent in keeping debris from affected trees separate from other wood during the superstorm Sandy cleanup.

Joe Morrissey, spokesman for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, said once the affected areas are surveyed and clean reports are made for three cycles, the infestation is declared eradicated.

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