Nature plays a big part in the town of Shrewsbury, Mass. Located about 45 minutes west of Boston, the town has a history of being a haven for those seeking solace from the city. Its roots are in agriculture; that past ever-present in town. Trees line the town's seal; Town Hall itself is on Maple Street. But lately nature has seemingly turned against the town, in the form of an invader known as the Asian longhorned beetle.
"Maybe starting 18 months ago we started picking up an odd insect here and there," said Dan Morgado, the town manager in Shrewsbury, Mass.
The USDA says the Asian Longhorned beetle came over from China about 15 years ago, most likely in a shipping crate. Since then, it has invaded communities across the U.S., New York first, then, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio and Massachusetts.
The bug destroys trees by eating them and boring itself deep inside. Specifically, it goes after hardwood trees, like elm, birch and maple.
Experts say trying to get rid of them is a problem. The Asian longhorned beetle has no known natural predator. Pesticides have had varying levels of success. Here in Massachusetts, many of the infested trees are located near the city of Boston's water source, ruling out chemical use.
So, the USDA says along with a firewood ban, the only solution is crews finding infested trees-- or even just trees that are at risk-- and chopping them down. So far in Shrewsbury, the USDA has cleared 1,000 acres and removed an additional 33,000 trees.
Reporter Steve Bottari: Clint, people are going to look at this, and they may say this is extreme. Weren't there other options you could have done first to get rid of a beetle?
Clint McFarland/USDA: When you are looking at this beetle, when we are looking at eradication, this is not extreme.
McFarland has been leading the fight against the Asian longhorned beetle for the federal government in Massachusetts for a decade. He says getting this bug out of North America is possible.
"Just seeing what we've done over the past decade, know this is a possibility," McFarland said.
But it's also costly.
"Right now, we are over $100 million in the last five years," he said.
A hundred million dollars. Just in Massachusetts. Just in the past five years. All coming from the state and federal government.
Steve Bottari: Now, an average taxpayer looks at the money we're spending and they say, 'well, we can't even pay right now for all our airline controllers, the FAA is having sequester issues. So how are we spending $100 million to fight a beetle?
Clint McFarland: Of course we're on soft money.
No one is more worried about that soft money than Shrewsbury's town manager.
"This isn't something that local governments can take on," Morgado said.
Morgado says this problem isn't his town's fault and shouldn't be their expense.
"It wasn't created by a Shrewsbury resident, it wasn't created by a Shrewsbury business, it wasn't created by the town of Shrewsbury as a corporate entity, as a town government. This is something that came to this country. And there's a federal agency that's supposed to make sure that type of thing doesn't happen," Morgado said.
For now, the feds are bearing the brunt of the cost. The USDA says the millions being spent pales in comparison to the cost of doing nothing-- a worry that reverberates far beyond the impact zone.
At Butternut Mountain Farm in Johnson, Vt., the end of maple season means the beginning of pulling spouts. One of the favorite times of year for David Marvin, whose family has been in the maple industry for more than 50 years.
Marvin says Vermont's sugarers are very concerned about the Asian longhorned beetle.
"In the maple industry we've been tracking them intensively, because it's very frightening that maple is the primary species they attack, because apparently they're very, very drawn to it," Marvin said.
A bug he says with the potential to wipe out the production of Vermont's liquid gold.
"The doomsday scenario is horrible," Marvin said. "Obviously the loss of our maple industry, which is tens of millions of dollars in primary production. But when we think about the total economy in terms of wood fiber and tourism that's related to sugar maple, to think that we could lose this tree is unbelievable."
Marvin says sugaring season, fall foliage and maple syrup would all be under threat if the beetle made it to the Green Mountain State. The state monitors traps making sure the invader isn't here.
That's why back in Shrewsbury, residents like Lisa Snow say they know what's at stake.
"If we don't do it, then it can spread all over the eastern United States and that would be a terrible tragedy," Snow said.
Her dream house at the end of a private cul-de-sac recently became a lot less private.
"Now we can see just about every house in the neighborhood," Snow said.
The USDA recently gutted acres of woods from the clustered houses because they were infested.
Steve Bottari: I mean now when I look out we can see across the way to these people's pool over here, we can see them at their pool. We can see everything going on in these people's houses. What was here before?
John Knipe/Shrewsbury Tree Warden: Before it was all trees.
The town says trees will start to be replanted here this fall. To regrow will take years, but so, too, will the battle against the beetle, another decade by USDA estimates. But when the dust settles, if they're successful, the invaders will be just another piece of Shrewsbury's history with nature.
Given the seriousness of the threat to Vermont's entire maple industry, the state has traps set up across the Green Mountains to monitor for the bug.
New York officials just announced they have entirely eradicated the beetle from Manhattan and Staten Island. So, there is some good news in this battle, though it is still popping up in other places. Vermont officials hope our state doesn't become one of them.
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