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Effort to replace trees destroyed by Asian longhorned beetle begins in Babylon

An Asian Longhorned Beetle crawls along a sawed

An Asian Longhorned Beetle crawls along a sawed off tree limb. Credit: AP

Hundreds of trees cut down by authorities in an attempt to stop the spread of the hardwood-eating Asian longhorned beetle in Babylon Town will be replaced in coming months.

Under a $1 million planting effort announced by New York State last week, about 1,600 beetle-resistant trees will be planted on private and public land across the town, an effort that may expand to Oyster Bay and Huntington in coming months.

"This is a big success and we've worked hard for it," said Gregory M. Sandor, executive director of Cornell University's Nassau County Cooperative Extension, which will perform the private property plantings.

About 50 trees will be planted on Babylon Town public land, said Brian Zitani, the town's waterways management supervisor. "We lost so many trees the first time the beetle was found in the town," he said. "Now we're getting trees restored -- that's one thing I am happy about."

Joseph Gittleman, project manager for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Asian longhorned beetle eradication efforts in New York, warned that "we are far from declaring victory."

The enemy -- black with white specks, bullet-shaped and an inch long in adult form, with antennae double that length -- feasts on maples, common shade trees that account for up to 40 percent of Long Island's forest canopy, along with ash, birch, poplars and willows.

First discovered on American shores in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in August 1996, the pest speedily infested other New York City boroughs and moved out to Long Island, eviscerating a beloved 200-year-old Chinese elm in Amityville as it spread to Babylon, Islip and the Massapequas.

Alarmed authorities imposed a quarantine that today covers 137 miles in central Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens, regulating transport of firewood and brush that serve as potential hosts.

USDA scientists are working on pheromone traps to capture beetles, but the best defense, Gittleman said, is one that may not sit well with property owners: identification of infected trees by professional inspection and civilian tips, followed by destruction of the trees, a practice that has resulted in 4,489 infected trees being cut down by authorities in central Long Island since 1996.

"We're not taking any chances," Gittleman said. "The most certain way to eliminate the beetle is to remove the tree and dispose of it by chipping it or sending it to be incinerated."

Most tree owners, he said, are "disappointed but understanding. The tree they planted could be a recognition of an event or even as a memorial to a relative or a friend."

Property owners who had trees cut down under the eradication program can choose from 22 replacement options like cherry, oaks and dogwoods that, for reasons not fully understood, are less palatable to beetle larvae.

The first recipient of new trees under the planting effort last week was Rocco Amoroso, 88. The three maples he planted on the lawn of his cabinet company, Amoroso Wood Products, in a Farmingdale office park 55 years ago were cut down and removed by authorities last year.

He'd been proud of their height and the beauty of their foliage -- "Nobody had a lawn like this," he said -- but they were hideous by the end. The three cherry trees planted in their place last week were still scrawny. "Anything worthwhile in life takes time," he said.

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