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Editorial: It's another Beetle invasion

An Asian Longhorned Beetle crawls along a sawed

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

They're back.

If those words inspire dread, they're meant to: The Asian long-horned beetle has reappeared on Long Island. For a region that lost thousands of trees to superstorm Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, the re-emergence of these tree-eating insects is bad news.

Long Islanders who remember the discovery of the beetles here in 1996 also recall the disheartening calculus of the battle to control them: Find every infested tree, destroy it, then destroy nearby trees that might serve as beetle hosts. Now the cycle has begun again.

Federal and state officials have made great progress in eradicating the beetles since they were spotted 18 years ago in Brooklyn and Amityville. All told, some 19,000 trees have been cut down. The beetle has been declared eradicated in Islip, Manhattan and Staten Island, and Queens and Brooklyn are free of infestations.

But the quarantine zone around Amityville has been expanded. After five years of no beetle sightings, a West Babylon woman found one in her backyard last summer. An expansive sweep uncovered infestations in several cemeteries around Wellwood Avenue, along the Southern State Parkway and in areas around Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. Nearly 500 infested trees will come down, along with 40 deemed at high risk. Another 4,500 trees of the most popular host species -- maples, elms, willows, horse chestnuts, birches -- will be removed along the Southern State from Route 110 to Little East Neck Road.

In addition to their aesthetic value, trees remove carbon dioxide from air, release oxygen, filter pollution, and provide shade that cuts air conditioning costs. Some homeowners near the Southern State likely will now have an unwanted view of it. A replanting program will replace some of the casualties.

Dire economic consequences lurk if the beetles move upstate, where they could profoundly affect the sugar maple and forest product industries. New York is the nation's second-largest maple syrup producer. Fewer trees blazing with autumnal color could hurt tourism.

Residents in the quarantine area -- roughly from Broadway in Massapequa to Little East Neck Road in West Babylon and up to the Long Island Expressway -- should report suspected sightings. Don't argue if someone checking your trees says one must come down. If you remove one on your own, your contractor must promptly chip or incinerate it.

Above all, don't spread the infestation.

Beetles fly about a mile at most during their life cycle. But they are renowned hitchhikers as larvae, burrowed deep into trees. That's how they first got here, according to commonly accepted theory -- inside wood packing securing sewer pipes shipped from China to Brooklyn.

So don't cut down a tree, chop it into firewood and bring it to a campsite upstate. Because if you don't burn it and end up leaving it for the next camper, you might just have given the beetles a new home.

This is the time of year the adults emerge, eating their way out of trees, leaving behind their telltale holes. We're at the beginning of this latest attempt to eradicate them. It will be a long and difficult process and one filled with anguish. It might sound like a sappy pop aphorism but, alas, it is true: To save the trees, we have to destroy them.

And that's a shame.