Tree-eating beetle moves west, surfacing in Chicago Bug that feeds on wood also found in N.Y. in 1996


CHICAGO -- A small, black, tree-killing beetle, first detected in New York more than two years ago, has found its way to Chicago, where agriculture officials say it has infested hundreds of trees. This is only its second known infestation in the United States.

The bug, the Asian long-horned beetle, or Anoplophora glabripennis, was discovered here in July by a resident of the Ravenswood neighborhood on the north side of the city. Since confirming the identity of the beetle, officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Illinois Department of Agriculture and the city's Forestry Department have found nearly 300 infested trees, all of which are to be destroyed this winter.

A quarantine area of more than 15 square miles has been set up, and officials like Joe McCarthy, a city forester now devoted full time to the beetle watch, are going after the little black bug.

"This particular beetle can be devastating to an urban environment," McCarthy said. "And if it's not eradicated, there is a potential threat to the national forest system."

The authorities believe the beetles are imported in raw wooden packing material from China. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman has required that all wooden packing material imported from China be treated before being shipped to the United States.

The rule, which will take effect Dec. 17, has created some tension with Chinese trade officials, who do not believe that the beetle's emergence has been positively linked to their country. But McCarthy said authorities had found the local source -- a hardware manufacturing company in Ravenswood that imports heavy material in wooden crates from China.

This particular beetle, unlike several of its cousins, actually eats live wood, causing irreparable damage to living trees, officials said. Its life cycle is such that pesticides are ineffective.

The only way to fight the beetle, experts say, is to cut down the tree in the winter and burn the wood before adult beetles emerge.

McCarthy said the beetles prefer maple, elm, willow and chestnut trees, so the city plans to replace those trees primarily with basswoods and ginkgoes, which the beetles are known to stay away from.

McCarthy said that the process of fighting the beetles is a long one.

"We're hoping this is about a five-year process," he said. Chicago officials say they think they caught the problem relatively early; in New York, the beetle is believed to have had three to four years to spread before it was detected in Brooklyn. Since the discovery of the beetle there in August 1996, more than 2,400 trees have been destroyed, said Joe Gittleman, the project manager in New York.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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