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Officials: Central LI soon free of Asian beetle

An Asian Longhorned Beetle crawls along a sawed

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

The Asian longhorned beetle, which has destroyed thousands of New York trees, has been eradicated in Manhattan and Staten Island, and officials believe central Long Island will be free of the invasive bug in the next several years.

"The stakes are high, but make no mistake -- we are winning the fight against ALB in New York," Darrel Aubertine, state agriculture commissioner, said in a statement.

Sections of Queens and Brooklyn, and a 23-square-mile area in Amityville on the Nassau-Suffolk line remain quarantined, officials at the Central Park news conference said Tuesday.

But Joseph Gittleman, USDA project manager based out of Amityville, said of central Long Island: "We haven't seen a bug there since 2008." He said the area will likely be quarantined and surveyed for several more years before the pests can be considered totally eradicated. In 2011, the beetle was wiped out in Islip.

USDA tree climber Jason Kokoszka, 36, of Bellmore, climbed up a 62-foot-tall elm tree in Central Park to demonstrate how to inspect a tree for the bug. He said it takes about two hours to inspect a tree this size.

"I inspected thousands of these trees in the last seven years. You have to climb every tree," said Kokoszka, who started inspecting trees in Amityville and now does it nationally. Although the total removal of the beetle is long and painstaking work, it's worth it, he said.

"We're lucky. Imagine if we had to cut down all these beautiful trees in Central Park."

The Asian longhorned beetle "is a huge threat to the hardwood trees in New York State," Aubertine said, adding the state's maple producing industry would be destroyed if the infestation spread.

Gittleman said public awareness is key in getting rid of the beetle. Any bug spotted should be reported to the USDA.

"Check your trees," said Gittleman. "Their holes look like they were made from electric drills." An infested tree would also have wood shaving that look "like fine tobacco" on the ground, he said.

Since 1996, maple, elms, birch, horse chestnut and willow trees -- those commonly affected on Long Island and New York City -- have had to be cut down, chipped and burned to get rid of the burrowing bug that lays its eggs inside trunks and branches. The beetle was first sighted in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, in shipping pallets that came from China.When the beetle matures, it eats itself out of the tree, making dime-size holes. The 11/2- inch-long, shiny black and white spotted bug, whose antennae are longer than its body, is easy to spot.

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