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Beetle science; Establish data before wholesale tree cutting.

COLUMN: IN OUR OPINION

The latest report on the efforts to eradicate Asian longhorned beetles in Worcester and several surrounding towns was sobering. While wiping out susceptible trees may prove necessary in some areas, as federal officials recommended Wednesday, the eradication team should demonstrate solid science behind its approach before clear-cutting begins.

Although all of Worcester and parts of Holden, West Boylston, Boylston and Shrewsbury are at risk, the Greendale and Burncoat sections in northern Worcester are the epicenter of the infestation. That area is particularly susceptible because two-thirds of the street trees are maples - the beetles' preferred habitat - most of which were planted to replace trees destroyed by the 1953 tornado.

To date, some 4,500 infested trees have been found in that area, and federal officials say many infested trees have yet to be detected. In fact, they are recommending cutting down all infested trees and trees susceptible to infestation in a two-square-mile area in northern Worcester - potentially 20,000 trees.

The stakes are indeed high. Failure to contain the infestation here would put all of New England's hardwood forests at risk. It should go without saying that all infested trees must be cut down and disposed of properly. However, given that the Asian longhorned beetle is a "homebody" that tends to find a suitable tree for egg-laying and stay put, it is not clear that cutting all susceptible trees within a quarter-mile of any infested tree is warranted.

City Manager Michael V. O'Brien has suggested the eradication team study a representative sample of susceptible trees near infested ones to determine how far the beetle is likely to spread. That approach would go a long way to establishing a scientific basis for the eradication effort - both here and in other areas where infestation may be discovered.

The briefing for local officials Wednesday gave some cause for optimism. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation is about to mail notification letters to 750 property owners initially affected and has prepared contracts for tree-cutting that will be put out to bid. Plans to replace trees are under way, with replanting expected to begin next fall. Legislation boosting penalties for moving wood from the regulated zone is moving ahead briskly.

The urgency is warranted, but every effort must be made to ensure that eradicating the Asian longhorned beetle does not unnecessarily wipe out the city's precious stock of urban shade trees.
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Title Annotation:EDITORIAL
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Dec 4, 2008
Words:400
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