With all the environmental disasters around the globe, you might be surprised to learn that an ecological battle is being waged in our very own backyards. Few people know our neighborhood lies in a quarantine zone that encompasses much of Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. It was 15 years ago that an invasive species arrived here from China, possibly stowed away in a shipping container or pallet. And once it was identified, scientists realized the stakes for our natural habitat were high.

The name of the threat is the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) and it has the potential to destroy more trees and forest than any previous blight or infestation known. The insect, named the Starry Night by the Chinese for its shiny black shell with white spots, devastates a long list of trees including maple, elm, birch, ash and many others. Once infested, host timberland must be destroyed. There is no cure or treatment once the beetle has laid its eggs.

You may recall USDA workers canvassing the community last winter asking to inspect backyards. It’s this kind of work – examining trees physically, viewing with binoculars, and in some cases climbing high into the branches – that ensures that the beetle is not present. Signs of ALB include holes in the trunk that look like bullet strikes, the presence of sawdust and off season dropping of leaves.

PLOG had a chance to meet with two Agriculture Department employees today as they took time out to teach students at the Lefferts Gardens Charter School about their work. The good news we learned is that public education and preventive treatment with insecticide have virtually eliminated infestations of ALB in the city. But recent sightings in Massachusetts mean that the beetle could return, hitching a ride in firewood or other improperly transported materials. If you see or suspect ALB in the area, contact the USDA at 866-265-0301.