A HERO’s Welcome: Clark Geographers Launch ALB Research

The first, most radical line of defense against an Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation is seemingly simple: Cut down and destroy any infected trees, as well as any nearby trees that are vulnerable to the hardwood-destroying insect.

For Worcester and neighboring towns, since the ALB infestation was discovered here in 2008, that’s meant a loss of nearly 31,000 trees. In the heavily infested Burncoat neighborhood, once lush, canopied streets were decimated by tree removals—prompting enraged citizens and public officials to push back against the USDA’s clear-cutting policy. The result: a much more nuanced approach to managing the infestation that combined infected tree removal with inoculations of threatened trees to mitigate further loss of the urban forest canopy.

Understanding the dynamics of that response—how the ALB infestation has affected the city physically and geographically, how different stakeholders responded to the crisis, and how policy makers and community members have negotiated solutions—is the goal of a three-summer investigation launched this morning by Clark University’s Geography Department and 11 undergraduates from around the country.

A project of Clark’s Human-Environment Regional Observatory (HERO), the research is headed by Associate Professors of Geography John Rogan and Deborah Martin, and funded by a $330,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“My mother grew up in Worcester,” said Joey Danko, a Clark geography student who became interested in the beetle infestation while working at Worcester’s Ecotarium. “She told me how much the Burncoat neighborhood’s atmosphere changed after the trees came down.”

Fellow HERO undergrad Shannon Palmer, also from Clark, said back home in New Haven, Conn., there’s a magnet on their refrigerator depicting the beetle with the warning, “Watch out for this bug.” By participating in the ALB research project, she hopes to help other communities avoid Worcester’s fate.

Danko, Palmer and Sean Peters, from Mississippi State University, all want to help the Worcester community gain a deeper understanding of the beetles’ impact and to improve communication between the public, policy-makers and scientists. “Where I come from, the public doesn’t trust science,” said Peters.

Two faculty-guided student teams will tackle the project. The first will assess how the beetle has altered density, tree cover and species diversity within the urban forest canopy and predict future changes; the second will assess how those charged with resolving the crisis—government officials, managers and policy-makers—responded to community stakeholders’ concerns.

“Worcester is a potential model for how to respond to future blights,” said Deborah Martin, co-principal investigator. “We hope to learn not only how to be more vigilant, but also how we can best address such problems in the future and work together to find the best solutions without resorting to clear-cutting.”

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

Comments

  1. Joey Danko says:

    Great article! But a quick note, my mom grew up in Worcester but not on Burncoat st.

    Best,
    Joey

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