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    N.J. gets rid of tree-killing beetle

    LINDEN, N.J. — New Jersey has eradicated a tree-killing beetle first seen in the state in 2002. Federal and state agriculture officials on Thursday declared the state free of the Asian longhorned beetle.

    They made the announcement at a sanctuary in hard-hit Linden in Union County. More than 20,000 trees were removed in Union, Middlesex and Hudson counties as part of the eradication effort.

    New Jersey is the second state, after Illinois, to have removed all infested trees and found no other signs of beetle activity.

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    The Asian longhorned beetle was first detected in the US in 1996. Officials say it likely arrived inside wood packing material from Asia. It has no known natural predator.

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    Eradication announcements are also expected this year for Manhattan and Staten Island, N.Y.

    ‘‘After more than a decade, we can declare New Jersey is free of this invasive pest,’’ said state Secretary of Agriculture Douglas Fisher. ‘‘We could not have accomplished this eradication without this coalition of federal, state, and local agencies, and of course, the citizens of New Jersey, whose vigilance was critical in this fight.’’

    Fisher was joined by Rebecca Bech, a deputy administrator at the US Department of Agriculture, as well as local officials at a ceremony and tree planting at the Hawk Rise Sanctuary in Linden, a city that was severely affected by the predator.

    The beetle was first discovered in Jersey City in October 2002.  State and federal agriculture officials then found trees infested with the beetle in Carteret, Woodbridge, Linden, and Rahway.

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    The trees felled in Union, Middlesex, and Hudson counties were taken to a resource recovery facility where they were used to produce electricity. Nearly a third of the trees have been replanted.