April 1 2001 12:00 AM

Whether you realize it or not, our government has declared war. Oh, it isn?t a war with a lot of fanfare or recruitment posters, but if you?re a landscape contractor, one day soon you may look up and find yourself on the front lines. Fortunately, your adversary can?t kill you, though it can take its toll on your clientele and can, therefore, have an impact on your business.

We have met the enemy, and it is a bug ? the Asian long-horned beetle. It?s really pretty discreet, only an inch-and-a-quarter long in adulthood, but this same trait that makes the beetle so inconspicuous is also what makes it such a guerrilla. The campaign being waged by the federal government needs trained scouts who can find small populations before they get a foothold. Uncle Sam wants you.

Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to arm your company with knowledge. Being aware of the Asian long-horned beetle?s appearance, habits and appetite for destruction in your day-to-day routine will ensure that you become a worthy opponent for this pest ? and a valuable ally to your clients.

The Asian long-horned beetle was discovered in the U.S. in 1996 in the Brooklyn, New York area. By the fall of 1997, this pest showed up just a few blocks from New York City?s Central Park, and Chicago has since experienced outbreaks as well. It?s likely that this insect made its way here via wooden packing materials, which explains its appearance in port cities. Unlike other pests such as the gypsy moth, the most threatened parts of the country are the urban and suburban areas ? city parks, office parks and subdivisions. Of course, there is a potential for the ?sugar bushes? of Vermont and elsewhere in New England to be affected, but for now, the battle is an urban one.

According to Daniel Parry, public affairs specialist with the USDA?s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), newly hatched Asian long-horned beetle larvae bore through the bark of such highly prized ornamentals as maples, birches, poplars, horse chestnuts, willows, elms, ashes and black locusts, and feed on the cambium. This is the most damaging stage of the beetle?s life cycle, as this is when trees are girdled. The larvae later bore into the heartwood, undergo metamorphosis and emerge via another hole to begin the process anew.

Landscape contractors who respond to service calls to find their clients? trees riddled with holes should note that they might be dealing with this exotic pest. Parry says 1,400 trees have been destroyed in Chicago and over 5,000 in New York since 1996 as a result of the Asian long-horned beetle.

Exit hole made by an adult
beetle when emerging
from a tree

The attempt to nip the problem in the bud

By 1997, USDA scientists and other researchers found themselves in a beetle-infested region of China, where the New York and Chicago insects were believed to have originated. Recognizing the widespread damage that could be caused if the Asian long-horned beetle population went unchecked for very long, the USDA declared war (i.e., entered ?eradication mode?) pretty quickly.
In order to strike hard and strike fast, pesticides were at the top of the government?s list of weapons. ?Being in eradication mode,? says Win McLane, section leader agriculturist with the USDA?s Pesticides and Application Section, ?obviously one of the first things you think of is, ?can we get to it and wipe it out with pesticides???

To explore this question, studies were made to test the effectiveness of trunk injection and soil injection methods, using such materials as imidacloprid, MetaSystox, Acephate and others. Along with each treatment, a four-step evaluation was conducted:

  • The ground beneath each treated tree was observed for dead beetles;
  • Beetles caged to the trees were observed for mortality;
  • Trees were cut and dissected to determine the treatments? effect on larvae;
  • Sections of leaves and twigs were taken into the lab to determine parts per million of the applied chemicals.

?The bottom line,? says McLane, ?was that the imidacloprid appeared to be up near the top, as far as effectiveness goes, against beetles and early larvae, compared to the old standbys.?

Monitor was another material that scored high on the evaluation, but because it tends to be more toxic than imidacloprid, explains McLane, using this product in this country would have entailed many difficulties. Imidacloprid, on the other hand, was already in use in the U.S. under a number of different names.

The prescription of choice

As a result of the research in China, the USDA focused the bulk of its emphasis on imidacloprid; one product in particular that seemed promising was J.J. Mauget Company?s Imicide. ?Of the treatment techniques that were used over there, the Mauget treatment was one of the more effective ones,? says McLane.

With Imicide, small holes are drilled into the root flair of the tree, at the ratio of one hole to every two inches of trunk diameter. A capsule containing ten percent Imicide is then placed in each hole, and the chemical is slowly released into the trunk. The advantages of using Imicide, according to McLane, are two-fold. First of all, it gets fully into the trees within about two weeks of injection, as opposed to a waiting period as great as two months with soil injections. Secondly, Mauget?s method puts the material directly into the tree, so sidewalk, pavement and groundwater contamination are not as great a concern.

The green industry?s supporting role

It should be emphasized that any Asian long-horned beetle eradication efforts should only be done under the jurisdiction of the USDA. Arnold Farran, the technical director and research coordinator for J.J. Mauget, points out that the beetle is a nationally quarantined insect and that Imicide was issued an EPA label. For fighting the Asian long-horned beetle, it can only be used under the federal government?s control.

Most business owners would naturally want to be involved in direct combat with anything that affects their clientele and, therefore, their livelihoods negatively. In the big Asian long-horned picture, though, the green industry?s most effective role is in education and detection.

?We?re continually looking for beetle-infested trees,? says McLane, ?and once a tree is found, we survey for an extended distance from that point. So, all the areas are being looked at not only once, but twice, three times, because this thing is so hard to identify.? The role that the green industry has played and will continue to play, he says, is detection of the beetle as they go about their daily operations.

?The best way to be involved is through education,? says Daniel Parry, ?knowing what to look for, what the signs are, and being able to educate the homeowner as well.? Landscape contractors? relationships with homeowners and the ability to keep them updated on prevention and treatment options will help ease a lot of conflict. It?s a given, for example, that some people will become upset when they learn that their beautiful and expensive ornamental trees must be destroyed for the sake of Asian long-horned eradication.

(Incidentally, some municipalities and green organizations offer free non-host trees that can be replanted in such circumstances. Having access to this information can make a landscape contractor even more valuable to his/her clients and prospects.)

Parry adds that beetle-specific information should be readily available for any company wishing to arm themselves with greater knowledge, including the USDA APHIS Web site at www.aphis. usda.gov. A 14-minute training video on the beetle (in both Spanish and English) is also being made available to landscape contractors and lawn care professionals through the U.S. Forest Service?s regional offices.

Because action was taken so quickly under the direction of the USDA, what?s being found in the field hints at victory. ?We?re finding fewer and fewer infested trees,? says McLane, ?so that would indicate that we?ve found the heavy pockets and we?re kind of winning the battle. It would appear we?re going in that direction.?

However, those involved in the fight are looking soberly at the situation, realizing that winning battles isn?t synonymous with winning wars. One factor in the beetle?s favor is the sheer volume of potentially infested material. In the past five to ten years, explains McLane, we?ve seen trade with China increase to $70 billion or $80 billion. The result is that a great deal of wooden crates and other items capable of transporting the beetle make it into this country unchecked. There simply aren?t enough inspectors out there to catch everything.

Healthy trees before
beetle attack

Tree has been completely defoliated by beetle infestation

Another thing to consider are the hosts this insect attacks and the degree to which they?re impacted. Comparing it to a pest like the gypsy moth is a mistake, explains Arnold Farran, as the gypsy moth is a defoliator, while the Asian long-horned beetle is a ?tree eater?.

?This insect has a wide range of hosts,? says Farran, ?including some of our most treasured trees in the United States. It?s a formidable pest, and if it isn?t monitored and controlled, it can eat its way from coast to coast.?

There?s also the fear that, because the beetle is so low-key, small populations may be gaining momentum without the public?s knowledge. Explains U.S. Forest Service Research Entomologist Therese Poland, ?There?s also always the chance that there are undetected populations out there that we don?t know about in other areas, because in Chicago and New York, it was seven to ten years before it was even detected.? This is a weakness that can be countered by the presence of knowledgeable, private professionals who routinely work in the field.

The Imicide trunk-injection method has also shown merit in beetle prevention, and according to Farran, 11,000 trees that would have otherwise been prone to attack were treated in Chicago last year. This year, 23,000 healthy Chicago trees will be treated with Imicide as a beetle deterrent. New York City plans to begin this preventative approach as well, beginning this year.

When the smoke finally clears, cooperation (or the lack thereof) will have proven to be the key in this war ? cooperation among homeowners, federal, state and local governments, the green industry professionals and the general public. This project is being approached as a unified effort with a single leader ? the USDA. Perhaps this level of unity is what will make all the difference ? and keep your clients? landscapes intact. So we urge you, enlist today.

April 2001