Tree-killing Asian longhorned beetle axed from NJ

Asian longhorned beetle. (USDA photo)

Take THAT, Asian longhorned beetle!

An invasive insect that once put fear into the hearts of New Jersey arborists because it had the potential to leave entire communities all but treeless, has been eradicated from the state.

“After more than a decade, we can declare New Jersey is free of this invasive pest,” said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher in a press release.

But not before taking nearly 23,000 trees with it.

The insect is but an inch long, with white spots on a black body.

Its appetite is dangerously diverse: maples, sycamores, poplars, birches, willows, horse chestnuts - a regular hardwood smorgasbord.

It bores into the wood and chomps away at the tissues that that carry water and nutrients throughout the tree, eventually killing it.

First discovered in 2002 in Jersey City, the insect, which is believed to have arrived in this country from Asia on wooden packing crates, spread to Carteret, Woodbridge, Linden, and Rahway.

Federal, state and local officials launched an all-out bug blitz to get rid of the thing.

I went to north Jersey in 2004 to investigate, and there, the tactic was to hit 'em hard.

In quarantined portions of Middlesex and Union Counties - 16 square miles of mostly modest homes and mature hardwoods - the discovery of a single exit hole was enough to bring in the chain saws.

All potential host trees within a quarter-mile were cut down; insecticide was applied for a quarter-mile farther.

Nearly 8,000 trees were dropped in one season.

One maple had 800 exit holes. In other words, 800 adults had emerged and flown off, to lay eggs elsewhere.

That’s what the trees — and the officials — were up against.

The borer never made it to this region, but officials were ever on the lookout.

An area is declared free of the borer after all the infested trees are removed and surveys for signs of beetle activity come up negative.

As for the trees that were felled, they were sent to a Covanta resource recovery facility where they were converted to electrical energy to power some 30,000 homes and businesses, according to the ag department and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

By now, nearly a third of the lost trees have been replaced with non-host species that the beetle isn’t interested in.

But officials are urging the public to remain vigilant — inspecting their trees regularly for any signs of insect infestation. And people are cautioned against moving firewood, which is how many invasive insects hitch rides to new territory.

After all, the Asian long-horned beetle isn’t the only pest lurking in the forest.

The emerald ash borer, an insect that kills ashes, has been on a steady march eastward from its port of entry into this county — Detroit.

Last spring, it was discovered in Bucks County.