On the Lookout: Asian Longhorned Beetle and the Parks

Friends, Pittsburghers, park enthusiasts, lend us your eyeballs.

There’s a Pennsylvania-wide game of nature “Where’s Waldo?” happening right now, and we invite you to play along. Rather than searching for a man in a red-and-white striped getup, though, we’re all keeping our eyes peeled for the white-and-black striped Asian longhorned beetle.

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Have you seen Bug Eyes here?

What is the Asian longhorned beetle?

An invasive, or non-native, species of beetle originally from Korea, China, and Japan, the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) migrated to the United States sometime in the 1990’s as a stowaway in shipping pallets. Since then, slowly but steadily, the insect has really sunk its mandibles into U.S. forests.

Part of what makes the Asian longhorned beetle such a large threat is its diet. A pickier eater would be more predictable: If it loved just one particular tree, we would know to monitor that tree type and watch for infestation. However, even though ALB is partial to red maples, it will make do with a wide range of host tree species: horsechestnuts, buckeyes, birches, planes, sycamores, willows, elms, boxelders, and other maples.

Once it finds a tree to inhabit, females burrow under the bark to lay eggs. After hatching, larva burrow throughout the tree to feed on the tree’s sugars and nutrients, eventually killing its leafy host. ALB is also a significant threat because it doesn’t respond to any known biological or chemical controls; once it infests a tree, that tree must be removed.

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The Asian longhorned beetle. Photo credit Smithsonian Magazine

The stories of ALB infestation can be heart-wrenching. But, even though ALB has been found in surrounding Ohio, New Jersey, and New York, we don’t think it has found its way to Penn’s Woods quite yet. And that gives us a lot of hope.

Early detection

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This week, a grouping of exceptionally knowledgeable arborists and naturalists (plus a few of us amateurs) busted out binoculars for an Urban EcoSteward training on spotting signs of the Asian longhorned beetle in Frick Park. Many a success story (such as the oak wilt trees in Schenley Park) of invasive insect/plant and disease eradication starts with an alert citizen speaking up when they see an issue.

And here’s where we need your help!

The more people on the lookout for ALB, the better the chances of spotting this unwanted visitor before thousands of our street and park trees are threatened. Keep a sharp eye out for these signs:

  • A leaf eaten away by ALB. Photo credit Michael Smith

    ALB-eaten leaf. Photo credit Michael Smith

    Chomp marks. Mature Asian longhorned beetles have a distinct way of dining. They love eating the veins of leaves, as well as the bark of young twigs. Infestations typically start from the apex of the tree, so check for easy-to-spot dead/dying leaves at the top of the tree.

  • Exit holes. Adult beetles exit the tree by burrowing. Check tree trunks for perfectly round holes, usually smaller than a dime.
  • ALB frass. Photo credit Kenneth Law

    Frass. Beetle burrowing can leave behind a sawdust, or frass, pile.

  • The actual beetle. About .75 – 1.25 inches long, the adult beetle is black with irregular white spots on the wing covers. They have distinct black and white antennae that are longer than their body. Blue hairs on their legs can give them a bluish tinge.

Now for the most important part: If you see something, say something. Even if you’re not 100 percent sure of what you’ve found, snap a photo. If possible, catch the beetle in a jar or a box. Then, report your sighting by calling the PA Department of Agriculture at 1-866-253-7189 or by emailing them at badbug@state.pa.us. If signs are spotted in the parks, please also let us know at info@pittsburghparks.org.

We’re not all doom and gloom over the Asian longhorned beetle (see photo below as proof). With watchful eyes and this week’s launch of the Park Tree Fund, we’re working hard to keep our park trees safe.

Much of the information from this blog was found through the University of Vermont’s stellar ALB resource pages. Read much more information about ALB here

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting in extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Joe from Tree Pittsburgh sporting extremely stylish ALB-wear.

Speaking for the Trees

Last week, a bloom of garden writers cropped up in Schenley Plaza. There was laughter, there was garden conversation, there was… a flash mob to the song “Happy.”

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Did we mention that garden writers are a rowdy bunch?

The 600 or so party animals gardeners from across U.S. and Canada were in town for the Garden Writers Association convention and made a special stop in Schenley Plaza to see the award-winning gardens that are on display there — for free! — all year long. They were also there to scope out the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit, made possible by Davey Trees and the Cultural Landscape Foundation and going on now around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain.

During their stop, we asked them to do what they do best — tell some stories! Davey Trees recorded 70 or so really amazing tree tales, which are posted to their YouTube channel. Here are some of our favorites:

And our Most Favorite Video Award goes to…

Have you visited the Every Tree Tells a Story exhibit yet? Catch it before it ends on September 1st!

If you would like to speak out for the trees, we invite you to join us at our Park Tree Fund launch event on Thursday, August 21st. The Park Tree Fund exists to maintain and strengthen our urban forest. With your support, we can keep Pittsburgh’s trees growing strong for generations to come. Now that would be a great story to tell.

We want to hear your tree story! Post your stories to the comments section below. 

Pardon the Dust: Park Projects in Progress

The new Frick Environmental Center

Back in 2002, fire consumed the much-loved Frick Environmental Center, the learning space that welcomed families and park-goers at the Beechwood Boulevard entrance of Frick Park. This week, twelve years (almost to the day!) after that fire, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, in collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh, brought in the hard hats to begin phase one of construction of the new Center.

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Hats off for the rebuilding of the Frick Environmental Center!

The new Environmental Center, to occupy the very same footprint of the old, burnt Center, will be filled to the brim with the awesome spirit of learning that our education staff inspires in everyone who visits the park. Built on a foundation of community input, the design of the new Center works in tandem with its woody setting, incorporating state-of-the-art sustainability design to soften its impact on the land. The building will:

  • Meet Living Building Challenge and LEED Platinum standards.
  • Use 40% less energy than a typical building of its size in the northeast.
  • Power all electrical systems via solar panels.
  • Filter and treat all wastewater before releasing it naturally on site.
  • Be constructed using materials that are produced locally (whenever possible) and safe for both humans and the environment.
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First grade summer campers planted flowers to make the temporary trailers they currently use for indoor camp time a little homier.

We will be posting regular project updates on our website and marking any trail closures around the site as they happen. For general information on the project, we invite you to read our Frequently Asked Questions page and explore our website.

While we work on this exciting project, we will still be teaching hundreds of Pittsburgh-area kids about stream ecology, tree identification, and enjoying the parks. Join in by attending one of our upcoming Urban EcoSteward trainings!

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High school Young Naturalists pose with Mayor Peduto on a walking tour near the site of the new Frick Environmental Center.

Schenley Park green infrastructure

Since we last wrote about the bike lane installation in Schenley Park, the Beacon Street demonstration project has really started to pick up steam. After the recent installation of the meadow (establishing itself now), the next step, infiltration trenches, has begun.

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The infiltration system that is being installed between Beacon and Bartlett will capture and hold rainwater longer than if that water was allowed to keep rolling downhill. During big rain events, the trenches will help to sop up and slowly percolate this water back into the surrounding meadow, lightening the burden on overworked sewers.

IMG_4312[1]These improvements — the meadow and trenches — are part of the larger effort to restore the Panther Hollow Watershed in Schenley Park. By using soil and plant roots to naturally filter water, we are preventing pollutants from roadways and sewers from finding their way into our water system and helping to address the issue of combined sewer overflow.

Watch as this project moves along quickly this summer! We’ll be posting regular updates of the Beacon/Bartlett site project on our website, as well as updates on greening the Bob O’Connor Golf Course greens, the next step in the Panther Hollow restoration.

Redevelopment of Cliffside Park continues this month as well. Stay tuned for updates on this project!

Members’ support is crucial in park improvements like these. Consider a donation to the Frick Environmental Center!

Every Trees Tells a Story

Every tree has a story to tell. We humans are still learning how to listen.

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Throughout the month of August, you’re invited to a unique arboreal story time to learn about a handful of very special trees around the world. A travelling exhibition assembled by The Cultural Landscape Foundation and sponsored by Davey Tree, Every Tree Tells a Story is in Pittsburgh for a short time (July 1 until September 1), spotlighting twelve seminal trees and tree stands around the world.

The woody wonders in this exhibit are a history book in and of themselves. From slaves to Buddhist temples, ladies’ societies to tornadoes, there are some outstanding tree tales to discover. Here are some of our favorites:

The Ficuses of Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photograph © Juan Pons.

Thanks to the Federal Aid Highway Act that the United States launched after WWII, Puerto Rico carried out a massive construction project to establish a 35-mile road along a shuttered rail line. Edging this road (which has now become a major highway) are three remarkable African cloth-bark trees.

These trees, 70-year-old artifacts of the farmland they once shaded, now reach 50 feet in height. Even in their constrained space, they have grown to stretch over seven lanes of the freeway at their feet.

The Boxed Pines of North Carolina

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Frank Hunter.

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

Previously an area worked by immigrants and their slaves, Weymouth Heights is now a planned subdivision that has not only preserved the historic trees of the land, but actually planned development around them.

These longleaf pine trees show scars from a time when slaves and landowners carved, or “boxed,” the pines to collect sap. The sap was then processed to make turpentine, pitch, and rosin. With the careful consideration of preservation groups, these trees will tell the important history of that region for years to come.

The Elms of East Hampton, New York

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story. Photographs © Garie Waltzer.

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Photo from Every Tree Tells a Story.

The story of the elms of East Hampton includes strong women and persistence. Bent on taking a seat at the male-dominated table of park planning, women of East Hampton joined forces to form the Ladies Village Improvement Society (LVIS). Buying in to their community via their street trees, these women have been the saviors of their iconic elms since 1895.

Working against hurricanes and Dutch Elm Disease (which killed approximately 75 percent of elms in the first 60 years it was in the United States), the LVIS has kept their streets shaded under these massive elms.

These stories are just a spattering of the amazing tales gathered in this exhibit. Be sure to visit during open hours at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh — Main, or around the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain in Schenley Plaza (both sites show all of the photos and information). If you visit the display on Sunday, August 10th, we will be there with the expert arborists of Davey Tree. On that day, between 9 and noon, tell us your tree story and Davey Tree will donate $1 to the Parks Conservancy!

Feel free to share any wonderful tree stories in the comments section below.

Like a Moth to a Flame: Mothing in Frick Park

When prowling for nocturnal winged insects, follow the guy with ‘Mothapalooza 2014′ written on his shirt in glow-in-the-dark print.

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Mothers use a bright LED light to attract moths in Frick Park.

One week each year, naturalists pay homage to an animal that you might often overlook, at least until you turn on your porch light: the moth. During Moth Week this year, a gaggle of us Parks Conservancy folks had a blast getting to know these creatures of the night in Frick Park with Pete Woods, Ecologist at the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and expert “moth-er.”

Around dusk, we found our way to the bottom of Falls Ravine where Woods had set up a picnic table base camp: moth and caterpillar identification books; a tripod with a bright LED light; a clothesline strung with a white sheet; and a pinkish concoction in a Nalgene bottle. A mixture of beer, wine, bananas, maple syrup, and yeast, this was going to bait nearby trees with a tasty slurry (at least to moths… the few of us that tried it weren’t about to ask for seconds). It was almost like a landing strip, directing moths our way.

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Painting moth bait to attract them by smell.

We painted a few trees with the moth bait and flipped on the huge LED light beside the white sheet. Within seconds, insects of all shapes started to gather, drawn to the light like, well, moths to a flame. (Side note: Pete explained that moths are drawn to bright light because they it looks like the moon, which they use for navigation.) Woods and a few other mothing pros named each one that dropped by.

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A basswood leaf roller moth.

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A gorgeous Bad Wing moth.

Taking the time to really see these insects, you can see why Pete and other serious moth enthusiasts get all a-flutter over them. They’re incredibly diverse in shape, color, and design. Plus, they have a mysterious nighttime draw that sometimes makes you stand in the park at 11pm huddled up against a spotlit white sheet (another side note: Pete had a permit for this excursion).

Pete’s plans are to hold more events like this to carry out a moth survey. We still have a lot to learn about what creatures call Frick Park home, and surveys like this are important to understanding the big picture. Stay tuned for upcoming moth watches from Pete. And if you’re free tomorrow, July 26th, join the Pitt Ecology Club and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for a moth watch in Schenley Park. Contact pittecologyclub@gmail.com for details!

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Better Bikeways, Better Watersheds: Big Plans for Schenley Park

Standing in a semicircle of maps and renderings of Schenley Park and surrounding streets, Mayor Peduto, Bike Pittsburgh‘s Scott Bricker, and the Department of Public Works’ Patrick Hassett recently announced exciting and progressive plans for protected bike lanes in Pittsburgh.

Peduto, Bricker, and Hasset share the mic at the press conference.

The first of the three segments of this project that we’re particularly thrilled to see will run from Schenley Plaza, snake along Schenley Drive and Panther Hollow Road, and end at Anderson Playground. Partitioned with bollards and marked with paint, the new bike lanes make it so that “families can bike with their kids, older folks can bike all over the city, to get to life, to connect kids to their schools and people to work and grocery stores and places of entertainment,” as Bricker said in the press conference.

BIkers came out in support of the new lanes.

“Schenley Park is our backyard,” one family told us at the event. Living so close to Anderson Playground, they’re enthused to see the new lane help them get from A to B in a way that’s safe for their entire clan. The new, protected bike lane (the first in Pittsburgh!) is slated to begin this month, and all three sections will be completed by Labor Day.

The Levin-Boykowycz family at the Mayor’s press release.

Schenley Park, further down the road

These infrastructure upgrades in the park are only just the beginning. Mayor Peduto in his announcement of these soon-to-be upgrades touched on his administration’s attentiveness to improve not only transportation infrastructure, but also stormwater infrastructure — often at the same time.

The Parks Conservancy’s work in the Panther Hollow Watershed is the quintessential opportunity to merge stormwater and transportation improvements.

Schenley Drive creates a number of challenges in the Panther Hollow Watershed:

  • Winding through the upper sections of the watershed, it makes up a large part of the impervious surface of Phipps Run. This generates a large amount of runoff every time it rains, leading to erosion.
  • The too-wide roadway does not serve pedestrians, bicyclists, or golfers well.
  • Grassy golf turf traditionally require intense mowing regimes, fertilizers, and herbicides, which eventually harm the watershed.

Recommended in the Panther Hollow Restoration Plan is a two-birds-with-one-stone kind of solution:

“Create a “complete street” that welcomes people, mitigates stormwater runoff, increases baseflow and improves water quality. Infiltration Berms capture runoff generated by the compacted golf course lawn, allowing for increased infiltration that can support a natural meadow within “rough” areas. Vegetated Swales slow down remaining runoff. The street will be narrowed and a separate path created for pedestrians and bicyclists. This path could be porous asphalt and will include an infiltration bed to capture and infiltrate the runoff in the upper portions of the watershed. Where infiltration is not feasible in the lower portions of the watershed, the stormwater bed will slow the movement of runoff for slow release of treated water to Phipps Run.”

All in all, this comprehensive approach addresses stormwater issues (at least 70,000 bathtubs of water per year would be taken out of our overloaded combined sewer system!) while making the road more usable for everyone.

Before that happens, though, we’re working hard on other points of the Panther Hollow plan. Currently, the new meadow on Bartlett and Beacon Streets is being seeded and will be full-grown later this summer.

Stay tuned as these restoration projects progress, and be sure to take a spin on the new protected bike lanes when they’re installed.

Working It: Workplace Volunteer Days

Are you looking for some different conversation starters around the water cooler? Need more excuses to give coworkers high fives? Love team building? Then ditch the after-work happy hour and get your office mates out to a volunteer day in the parks!

They say that a family that plays together, stays together. We like to say that coworkers that plant trees, pull invasive plants, and pick up trash in the parks together, stay together. In June, we had an incredible number of corporate and community groups — 18 to be exact — get gloved up and contribute over 750 volunteer hours in the parks. Here’s how much they rocked:

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are tough. Our volunteers are 10 times tougher. Groups in June pulled almost 30 bags of garlic mustard, 23 bags of Mile-a-minute vines, and some burdock and mugwort to boot.

Top: Public Allies saving a young tree from an invasive vine in Frick Park. Bottom left: Mullen volunteer wearing a shirt that says “invasive plants beware” pulling garlic mustard. Bottom right: A young SCA volunteer cutting invasive vines in South Side Park (photo credit: SCA)

Trees and plantings

Just uphill from Bartlett Playground, the Schenley Park oak wilt site is on the road to recovery. Volunteers from SDLC Partners trudged right into the mud to get some new trees in the ground to aid this site’s gradual restoration — and had a ball.

Last month, volunteer groups planted almost 450 annuals and herbaceous plants and 59 new trees and shrubs in the parks. Additionally, over 200 pots of native wildflowers were transplanted to keep them safe during the construction of the new Frick Environmental Center.

Top: SDLC volunteers yukking it up in front of a newly planted tree. Bottom left: SDLC volunteers making a hole for a tree in thick mud. Bottom right: Public Allies fence trees in Frick Park.

Weed whackers

Caring for the multitude of park gardens is no easy task. Thanks to the many volunteer hours spent deadheading, weeding, mulching, and watering, we’re able to keep these public gardens looking stellar. Last month, Schenley Plaza, Mellon Park Walled Garden, Highland Park Entry Garden, and Bartlett Playground were all given lots of love by our volunteer groups.

Top right: Duquesne students and Hill District residents plant more than a hundred annuals. Left and bottom right: American Eagle Better World volunteers care for Mellon Park.

Team building

We have a blast working with so many mighty, enthusiastic volunteer groups. And we think that all of the big smiles that we see during and after the day are a pretty good sign that they’re enjoying their time in the parks, too.

Thanks to IDL Worldwide,  Weslyen Charities, AmeriCorps NCCC, Landslide Farm, Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, Navy, Bidwell, Pittsburgh Botanical Society, SCA, South Side Neighborhood Association, American Eagle, Aon, AIG, SDLC Partners, Duquesne University, Public Allies, Highland Park Garden Club, and Mullen for being such fantastic volunteers!

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Itching to get your corporate, community, or religious group out into the parks for a volunteer day? Reach out to us at volunteer@pittsburghparks.org to set up a date for this fall!

Jake Baechle, Volunteer Coordinator with the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy