Students spend their summer protecting New York City from the devastating Asian longhorned beetle

Nature conservancy tree stewardship internship prospect park students
© Manon Verchot || Curious children ask Gabriela Witek and Celine Martinez about the trees they're working on

Four college students are dedicating their summer to participate in the first ever paid tree stewardship internship in New York City organized by the Nature Conservancy.

The students will make their way through Prospect Park in Brooklyn looking for signs of the Asian longhorned beetle, an invasive species native to Japan, China and Korea.

The beetles enter the country mainly through ports so New York City has been particularly at risk, Rachel Holmes, program coordinator for the Conservancy's Healthy Trees, Healthy Cities initiative in New York, told Tree Hugger. “They come from Asia on shipping pallets, and so there is a high prevalence of insect infestation in the tri-state area.”

Asian longhorned beetles are extremely destructive and are estimated to cost $3.5 billion worth of damage in the US annually. They burrow into trees, killing them from the inside. In 1998, infestations were found in Manhattan, Staten Island and New Jersey. It was only last year that the New York City Parks and Recreation Department declared Staten Island and Manhattan free from the beetle. But it’s important to keep looking for signs of their reappearance.

“The problem with the Asian longhorned beetle is that whenever they attack an area, they like to nest – the nickname is ‘the lazy beetle’ and that’s a problem because then it doesn’t just affect the tree and move on, it kills the tree, and if it gets in all the trees in an area, then it can wipe out an entire area of trees,” said Celine Martinez, one of the students working on the project.

Asian Longhorn Beetle by UFWS/James Applebee/CC BY 2.0

“Usually people notice the problem when the tree is dead – and by then it’s too late,” her partner, Gabriela Witek, added.

The Asian longhorned beetles need to be caught early, but identifying signs of them is not easy work. They do most of their damage beneath the bark and when they do emerge, they leave holes that can be high up in the tree and difficult to spot in summer when leaves get in the way. But the students are well equipped: they’ve got binoculars, tape measures and lots of energy. They went through two weeks of training before starting the project and are now making their way through Prospect Park.

“We’re looking at defoliation of a tree or discoloration, just details that can help us identify whether there are beetles,” said Jennifer Dilone, another student.

Her partner, Gustavo Figueroa added, “If we don’t actually care for the trees, who else will?”

The Nature Conservancy recruited these students from the pool of alumni from the Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF) program, which is going on 20 years this year. LEAF aims to teach high school students living in cities about nature. Every year, students in 27 states across the US are brought to nature preserves to get involved in tree stewardship.

© Manon Verchot || Gustavo Figueroa and Jennifer Dilone measure the diameter of a tree

More than 700 students have taken part in the program in the last two decades, and a little over 30 percent have pursued careers in environmental work. Some of the students in Prospect Park already have environmentally related careers in mind. They are exploring the possibilities of being environmental educators or perhaps one day working for the Nature Conservancy.

“The students are incredibly motivated, they’re incredibly interested, they’re committed, and dedicated to the work and the community,” said Holmes, who has been leading the students in this internship. “They’re all from New York, so they’re motivated from a very personal perspective.”

If you see them in the park with their orange vests and yellow hard hats, make sure to stop them and ask a few questions. They may even give you a pamphlet. The Asian longhorned beetle better watch out because these students are not joking around!

Tags: Green Jobs | Green Youth | Insects | New York City | Summer

2014 Gift Guide

WHAT'S HOT ON FACEBOOK