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Hundreds of trees cut down in Worcester in battle against beetle

Worcester resident Anthony Maloney said workers cleared the trees that lined the front of his house, which borders on the Green Hill Golf Course.

Anthony Maloney

Worcester resident Anthony Maloney said workers cleared the trees that lined the front of his house, which borders on the Green Hill Golf Course.

Approximately 500 trees were cut down this week near a Worcester golf course, in another chapter in the area’s long-running fight against the destructive Asian longhorned beetle.

A survey recently found 11 beetle-infested trees near the Green Hill Golf Course. The state Department of Conservation and Recreation hired a tree service to cut down about 500 other nearby “host trees,” or trees considered at a high risk of infestation, said Clint McFarland, Massachusetts program director for the US Department of Agriculture’s Asian Longhorned Beetle Eradication Program.

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The voracious beetle, native to Asia, can cause severe damage to hardwood trees such as maple, horse chestnut, birch, poplar, willow, and elm, according to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. The majority of trees that were cut down near the golf course were Norway maples and birches.

Worcester County has lost more than 34,000 trees to the beetle since 2008, McFarland said. He said the good news was that the level of infestation has declined significantly over the past few years.

The tree removal this week was significant because it involved a large number of trees in a small area — only 3 acres — and it was in a residential area, McFarland said. Similar removal operations have also taken place in residential areas in Shrewsbury, Boylston, and West Boylston in the past two years, he said.

Although there is an insecticide, Imidacloprid, available to treat host trees, McFarland said it is only a preventive strategy.

Some residents were unhappy with the decision to cut down so many trees.

Anthony Maloney, who lives on Colby Avenue, said Wednesday that workers had just finished clearing the trees along the front of his house, which borders the golf course.

“Something just really kind of stinks about this whole thing,” Maloney said in a telephone interview.

Maloney said he had collected 32 signatures on a petition against the removal of the host trees, calling for the use of Imidacloprid instead, and presented it at a City Council meeting. He said his plea went unanswered.

Councilor Philip P. Palmieri said there had been a debate for years over whether Imidacloprid should be used.

“Cutting down trees is a very labor-intensive job,” he said. But “from the first time an infestation was found in 2008, the USDA has been consistent in not only cutting the infected but also the host trees. . . . Cutting the trees down has certainly been the standard for the USDA in the eradication effort, rather than inoculating them.”

Ken Gooch, a supervisor for the department’s Forest Health Program who oversees the state’s beetle eradication efforts, said the trees needed to be cut down because Imidacloprid does not cure infested trees, and the surveys may not have caught every single infested tree in the area. The risk of the beetles spreading is so great that officials needed to rely on widespread tree removal to ensure the full eradication of the beetle from the area, he said.

Efforts are currently underway to replant trees around the Green Hill Golf Course, Gooch said.

Trisha Thadani can be reached at trisha.thadani@globe.com.
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