October 22, 1998
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, the invasion of the beetles, but not the musical kind. Elizabeth Brackett reports from Chicago.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The two men scan the trees intensely in this quiet Chicago neighborhood.
MAN: And there are dead branching in this one too, so it's more than likely is infested with the beetles also.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What Illinois Department of Agriculture inspector and the city forester found was not good news for this tree-lined street, a devastating, tree-killing pest. The Asian Longhorn beetle had made its way to Chicago from native China, probably traveling in, in wooden packing crates. Reports from the field in Chicago caused great concern at the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington. USDA Assistant Secretary Michael Dunn:
MICHAEL DUNN, Assistant Secretary, USDA: We see this as a tremendous problem. What we look at, what's at risk here, and we look at $138 billion worth of forestry products, fruits, maple syrup, that may be at risk. The fact of the matter is some of the aphids scientists tell me that this is probably a greater threat, if it goes unchecked, if you can't stop it, than Dutch Elm disease and Chestnut Blight combined.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The two and a half to three inch long black beetle, with distinctive white spots, was first found in the New York area three years ago. In Chicago, the beetle was first spotted in July, when a homeowner cut off tree limbs that were hanging over his neighbor's new backyard pool. He chopped the limbs up and offered some to suburban park district worker Barry Albach.
BARRY ALBACH, Resident: Well, he asked me if I wanted some firewood. I said, yes, sure, I'll take some firewood, stuck it in the back of my pickup truck, which it sat there for about three or four days, maybe a week, and a day later, this bug appeared on my rear view mirror on the outside of the truck. It was a weird-looking bug, so I decided just out of curiosity, went to the Internet, punched it up, punched up beetles, and the first thing came up on the site was Asian Longhorn beetle, and it had a pest alert on there. I thought, oh, we have something kind of big here. So that's basically how it started.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: You traced the firewood back to this tree.
STAN SMITH: Back to this tree, yes.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Illinois Department of Agriculture Stan Smith says once you know what to look for, it's easy to identify infested trees.
STAN SMITH: As you look up the sides of it, you can see all the spots where the females have been laying eggs. This tree probably wouldn't last another year or so.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Because the Asian Longhorn burrows so deeply inside the heartwood of a tree, there is only one way to eliminate the pest - destroy the tree. Entomologist Frederic Miller.
FREDERIC MILLER, Entomologist: Once you get a wood-boring insect inside of a tree, it's very difficult to know exactly what part of the tree that insect is in until it comes out. And then not knowing how many insects are in there, so the only realistic or practical way is to destroy the whole tree and get rid of that host.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: That was devastating news to neighborhood residents.
ADAM ROBERTS, Resident: It's going to be disastrous, I think. It's a beautiful, shaded street neighborhood, and losing the shade, I think, will be horrible.
JIM CRENZ, Resident: It's terrible. It's devastating. We're just, you know, really upset. I just hope that they've looked into everything and figured out every possibility so they don't have to just cut 'em all down.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The area's alderman says residents are worried about their property values and the emotional impact of losing a tree.
EUGENE SCHULTER, Chicago Alderman: In many instances people - grandparents or great grandparents have planted these very trees. So when they - you know - they talk about the memories of seeing the tree growing up with the kids growing up, it brings back not only memories of the tree but memories of the growth of one's family as well.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The news that trees will have to be chopped down, chipped up, then burned to keep the beetle from spreading was also a blow to Chicago's mayor. Richard M. Daley admits to a love of - some say an obsession with - trees.
MAYOR RICHARD M. DALEY, Chicago: You can talk about a tree person. Right here, I'm a tree hugger. I mean, I - I mean, I see 'em cutting down a tree, you know, I'm a - you know, I'm a little upset, but like anything else, you have to - if you don't do things like this, then you're going to basically destroy more of nature, not just - you know - an eight or twelve-block area. You'll destroy not just the city, this state and this nation.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: They won't begin cutting the trees down until December, when the beetles die. Only the larvae will remain. But when they do begin cutting, all these maples behind me on this block will be gone. The city projects that more than 800 trees will have to be destroyed in a 12-square mile area. City forester Joe McCarthy says the one bit of good news for residents is that the city will pay for the removal and replanting of new trees on both public and private property.
JOE McCARTHY, City Forester: We're taking a position that this is a natural disaster. You know, it's not something that these individuals have caused upon themselves or anything. It's done by a natural predator that's been brought from a foreign country.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: One eradication step has been taken. Wooden pallets containing goods shipped from China to this hardware supply house in the middle of the infested area in Chicago were burned. Joe Schafer is with the USDA in Illinois.
JOE SCHAFER, USDA, Illinois Representative: It's called a precautionary burn. We're doing the house cleaning of the business. We're removing all possible wood that came from China. We'll start over, and we'll monitor the material coming into the building from henceforth.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: At Chicago's beetle command center, the USDA's state director says it's easy to see the signs of beetle infestation in the palleting they have collected in the area.
KEN KRUSE, USDA, Illinois Director: You can look at these here. Some of the holes you can see - these holes through here are all caused by the larvae tunneling through this wood, and it shows also on the other side.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It's a pretty big hole. You mean, worm holes?
KEN KRUSE: Yes.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The expanding beetle problem brought the secretary of agriculture, Dan Glickman, to Chicago. The secretary, along with Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, and the mayor got a firsthand look at the damage caused by the beetle.
SPOKESMAN: And you see where one has broken off because of the damage. And that wasn't - six weeks ago that wasn't true.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Convinced that the beetles are coming into the country in wooden packing crates from China, the secretary announced emergency regulations due to go into effect in December.
DAN GLICKMAN, Secretary of Agriculture: This administration is taking emergency action to ban entry into the United States of all untreated, solid wood packing material from China. What we are doing, in effect, is shutting down these beetles' mode of transportation into this country.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: But there is concern that the new regulations will impact the Clinton administration's vigorous effort to promote trade with China. USDA officials estimate that 30 to 50 billion dollars of trade could be at risk, though the assistant secretary says there are also strong financial reasons for the Chinese to comply with the new regulations.
MICHAEL DUNN: Goods that are shipped over here that have not been treated are subject to a fine of three times the value of that good that comes over here. So there is a very, very strong financial incentive to do the right thing, both by our importers and by Chinese exporters.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: As Chicagoans battle to contain the beetle, the USDA asks that citizens across the country check their trees for the beetle that has the potential to change the landscape from one end of the country to the other.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chinese scientists visiting Chicago this weekend said there was no proof the beetles had come from China and asked the US to put restrictions on lumber from other Asian countries as well. But the Department of Agriculture disagreed and said it would proceed as planned.