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Battling an Invasive Pest – The Asian Longhorn Beetle at Dodge Park in Worcester, MA

Worcester, Massachusetts, for those who don’t know, is currently at ground zero in a major battle against an invasive specie, the Asian Longhorned Beetle.  This particular critter probably joined us via wood palette, courtesy of global commerce.  Here are a few links that will give you more information about the pest and the battle if you’re interested.  We paid a visit recently to the front lines of the battle, Dodge Park, in the Burncoat section of Worcester.  Here’s what we saw.  (Click on the image for a better view.)

(You can see the full sized panorama posted at gigapan, and get geographic coordinates for the shot here.)  If you take a visit to Dodge Park via Google Earth, this is not what you’ll see, at least not yet.  Their most recent satellite photos will show a park that is completely forested, largely with maples.  All of the maples and other susceptible trees were cut down in the past few months from what I am told. You don’t see any stumps in this image because the stumps have to be ground up as well.  The Beetle can’t live in ground wood evidently, so the wood can actually be repurposed to an extent, in this case to make paths through the now rather Martian looking landscape.  It’s quite eerie there.  The good news is that the State’s Division of Conservation and Recreation is now involved in doing some replanting.  This is a big park though, and recovery will take some time.

The battle is not without controversy.  The taking of the trees, which is actually a Federal (Department of Agriculture) and not a State decision obviously has a terrible aesthetic and natural set of consequences.  Indeed, as reported in a recent Boston Globe article, some scholars question the value of some fights against invasive species. (Though evidently very few question the value of the fight against the Beetle.)  What is at stake of course are the economic consequences of not fighting the Beetle, including the loss of the maple syrup industry in Vermont if the critters make it that far north (a possibility to be sure) as well as significant impacts on the lumber industry.  Government intervention to stop the spread of disease is as old as humanity and often quite necessary, though at the same time, painful.

On the other hand, it is difficult to know what we could possibly do to stop an invasive such as Pine Needle Scale, which I’ve written about frequently.  The reality is, the Red Pines will die, and other species will reclaim their place in the sun. Perhaps the question as to whether or not to fight an invasive isn’t the only one we should consider.  Another question might have to do with lessons learned.  On our visit to Dodge Park we had the pleasure of chatting with a DCR supervisor who was happy to answer our questions.  She said that one of the factors that promoted this particular epidemic was the Great Worcester Tornado of 1953.  The tornado passed through this part of the City and obliterated much of the standing shade trees. Replanting at the time relied heavily on  one particular species of maple, a species highly susceptible to the Beetle.  Mono species populations packed in too tightly are in general more vulnerable to the spread of disease.    This is true of Red Pines, Maples and who knows what else.  Diversity, in the face of global travel and global warming, is likely a very good thing.

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