While the ticking clock of climate change gets louder and louder each day (and sounds especially loud this Earth Month), Greenpoint itself has a long, storied history with environmental concerns — and that’s not just limited to questionable materials calling Newtown Creek home. Twenty five years ago this month, the neighborhood was experiencing a beetle infestation that resulted in the sacrifice of up to 1,000 trees (many in McCarren Park) according to The Urban Audubon, the New York City Audubon Society newsletter.
The insects in question, the Asian longhorned beetle, have long since posed a thread to America’s hardwood trees. There is also no “cure” besides early identification and eradication, hence the mass tree sacrifice and subsequent $500,000 budget for tree replacement from the Forest Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“These beetles were present as off-white eggs, larvae, or pupae dormant within the heartwood of host trees,” article author Peter P. Blanchard III wrote. “While the trees suffered some damage months ago from the females depositing the eggs, the worst was yet to come: to emerge, the mature beetles drill exit holes measuring 3/8″ in diameter, often killing their hosts in the process.”
But the eradication plan didn’t come without concerns — many neighbors at the time mourned the loss of the trees and felt the money was insufficient, given that the replacement efforts would mean putting saplings where well-established trees had previously been rooted, potentially disrupting the local ecosystem.
The beetles made their NYC debut right here in Greenpoint in 1996 and, not to be outdone, maintained an impressive twenty-three year residency (outlasting many local businesses throughout the years) in the city. It wasn’t until October 2019 that the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and New York City Department of Parks and Recreation announced the elimination of the Asian longhorned beetle.
Fingers crossed that it won’t take another twenty-three years to address the rest of the city’s environmental qualms.