A wood-devouring beetle has gained a foothold in New England. Authorities plan to cut down large numbers of infested trees and grind them up to stop the pest from spreading to the region's celebrated forests and ravaging the timber, tourism and maple syrup industries.
The infestation of Asian longhorned beetles in the Worcester area marks the fourth time the pests have been found in trees in the United States. It's the closest they have ever come to the great New England woods that erupt in dazzling, tourist-pleasing colors in the fall.
"This insect scares us to death because if it ever got loose in the forests of New England, it would be just about impossible to contain and it'd change the landscape dramatically," said Tom McCrum of the Massachusetts Maple Syrup Association.
Calling it a national emergency, federal authorities have committed themselves to spending tens of millions of dollars to fight the invasion. They have sent in smoke jumpers, tree climbers and other experts to identify infested trees.
The affected area now covers 62 square miles around Worcester and four neighboring towns, and at least 1,800 trees have been tagged for destruction.
The outbreak was detected this summer, after Donna Massie spotted beetles on a tree in her back yard in Worcester. She caught one, searched online to identify it, then called agriculture authorities. Now her tree is riddled with dime-size holes.
"It looks like someone opened fire with a machine gun," Massie, 53, said of the signature exit holes.
The beetles first appeared in the United States in 1996 in Brooklyn, probably arriving in the wood of a shipping crate from China, and have since shown up in New York's Central Park and parts of New Jersey and Illinois. Eradication efforts have cost $268-million over the past 11 years.