In the News: The War on Beetles

by Anne Schwartz, July 2000

The Asian long-horned beetle has struck again, this time infesting trees along Luther Gulick Playground near the Manhattan approach to the Williamsburg Bridge. The trees were chopped down, chipped and burned to kill the insect and its eggs, the only way to stop the spread of the insect, which has no natural predators in the United States.

The tree-killing beetle made its first attack in New York in 1996, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The Parks Department believes that it stowed away in the wood of crates brought from China to the Greenpoint docks. Since then, nearly 3,000 trees in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan have had to be destroyed to stop its spread. Last year, the beetles were discovered in Ruppert Park in the Upper East Side, too close for comfort to Central Park.

"The beetles pose an enormous long-term danger to the city's forests and to trees all along the Northeast," Parks Commissioner Henry Stern was quoted as saying in the New York Times. "All of humanity is together in fighting this. This is biological warfare and we are on the side of the trees."

The Parks department has stepped up tree inspections in special zones around areas where the beetle has been found, and is asking people to report sightings of the insect or the characteristic pencil-sized holes it bores in upper tree trunks. In April, the department announced a $10 million federal, state, and city effort to battle the beetle, with funding for inspection and the destruction and replacement of infested trees with seedlings.

Anne Sounds Off

A recent article in the Albany Times-Union documented the depressing result of funding cutbacks for park maintenance in a number of upstate cities. Albany, for example, has slightly more than half the park workers it had two decades ago, with predictable deterioration of parks, particularly small ones. When budgets are tight, Schenectady's Mayor said, "the parks are the first to get whacked."

Sound familiar? New York City just approved another budget that continues an inadequate level of spending on park maintenance. Though this year's funding is $3 million higher than last year, the extra money goes to salary increases for existing staff and 31 new seasonal workers, not to increasing much-needed skilled maintenance staff, like gardeners, tree pruners, and plumbers. In fact, the budget includes a hiring freeze that aims to cut 100 fulltime park workers through attrition. The Parks department has been supplementing its maintenance staff with welfare workers, and private fundraising and volunteers are helping to maintain some parks. But many parks, especially in the poorer neighborhoods, are in terrible shape. Less than one-half of one percent of the City budget goes to the Parks department operating budget. It's time for our elected officials to stop thinking of parks as frills and realize that investing in open space and recreation pays off„in higher real estate values, crime reduction, improved air quality, and the kind of city where people and businesses want to locate.