With Beetles in Decline, Worcester Gets $3 Million for More Trees

As hors d’oeuvres circulated amidst tree advocates, environmentalists, politicians, government officials and staff, as TV reporters staged interviews and photographers clicked shots, you could hardly hear the person next to you above the excited chatter at Green Hill Park’s Grill on the Hill last night.

The reason? Worcester will benefit from $3 million in state funding over the next two years, a boost for ongoing efforts to replant tens of thousands of trees lost to the Asian Longhorned Beetle within the city and surrounding towns.

Lt. Gov. Tim Murray made the official announcement at the festive celebration, which marked the Worcester Tree Initiative’s (WTI) progress since January 2009 toward planting 30,000 new trees by the end of 2014. To date, the public-private partnership, which coordinates efforts by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and many local non-profits, private businesses and citizens, has planted about 23,000 public and private trees in Worcester and neighboring towns affected by the blight.

ALB Crisis a “Call to Action” to Save Worcester’s Urban Forest

Flanked by Congressman Jim McGovern and a coterie of local and state officials, Murray said the ALB crisis had served as “a call to action” to restore Worcester’s aging urban forest. He thanked McGovern for partnering with him to create the WTI and for helping the city acquire an additional $5 million in federal stimulus money over the past two years to boost replanting efforts.

Adding to the evening’s good cheer, the Walmart Foundation, which had previously donated $150,000 to local tree replanting efforts, presented a $50,000 check to the WTI. Local officials also credited CSX Corp.’s Trees for Tracks program for helping to support reforestation work.

Only 13 Beetles Found in 2012

The funding couldn’t arrive at a better time—with the beetles on their way out. According to Clint McFarland, who has been managing ALB eradication efforts for the USDA since the infestation was discovered in 2008, only 13 beetles were caught this past year via their extensive trapping and reporting program. That’s a dramatic decrease from five years ago, when McFarland said they first found “thousands of beetles” in Worcester—indicative of a vast infestation that probably began in the 1990s.

With improved detection methods, including the use of specially trained dogs that can sniff out the scent of ALB excrement, and more efficient beetle traps, McFarland said eradication specialist are now able to isolate and eliminate any newly discovered pockets of infestation.

So the beetles are no longer the biggest threat to Worcester’s trees, old and new. But there is another challenge looming.

Caring for New Trees is Key

As newly planted saplings sprout throughout the city, with the promise of thousands more plantings over the next two years, Worcester must ensure that the young trees grow and thrive. According to WTI Executive Director Peggy Middaugh, recruiting and training many more citizens and business owners to become tree stewards who will water and watch over their neighborhoods’ public trees is essential.

“Our first tree giveaway was like the running of the brides at Filene’s Basement,” said WTI Co-chair Mary Knittle. “Now that the trees are in the ground and looking good, we need to keep the pressure on.”

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.