Planning Ahead: Important New Research Shows Impact of Asian Longhorned Beetle on Pittsburgh's Parks

December 9, 2016 by Pittsburgh Parks

Pittsburgh's parks provide countless benefits. They're places to exercise (for humans and their furry friends), places to gather, and places that bring communities together.  

Parks also provide countless environmental benefits.  Tree canopy is particularly important in slowing stormwater, a major issue in our city. Trees absorb excess stormwater and keep back erosion and landslides. They also emit water through photosynthesis, cooling parks and our city -- not to mention providing shade on hot summer days. Park trees also play a critical role in filtering the pollution that humans create daily from industry and commuting.

Photo: US Department of AgricultureRight now, an invasive insect poses a potential threat to our beloved park trees. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and partners across the city are keeping a close eye out for the Asian Longhorned Beetle.

First found in 1996 in Brooklyn, New York, Asian Longhorned Beetle (ALB) has snuck through ports via shipping containers and in wood products such as untreated pallets and packing materials. ALB poses a potential threat to not only our city parks, but to timber and syrup industry in the Northeast, potentially causing an estimated $73 million of damage to the maple syrup industry.  So far, ALB has only been found in Illinois, Ohio, New York, and Massachusetts. In Pittsburgh, an estimated 67% of all the trees within city boundaries could be at risk should this invasive species arrive at our ports.

This summer, research was conducted by Student Conservation Association Green Cities Fellow Rhiannon Kerr to give the Parks Conservancy and city partners an idea of the potential scale of ALB impact on our parks. Schenley, Frick, Highland and Riverview parks were surveyed through a tree count in which Rhiannon walked park trails to tally trees by species.  See the results of Rhiannon's work in an interactive map here. A more intense study was conducted in Frick Woods Nature Reserve with the help of our Young Naturalists. 

The image on the right shows the results of Rhiannon's work: That 54% of Frick Park's trees could be lost should an ALB infestation occur. Click the image to be taken to the interactive map.

The interactive map (made possible with support from the Powdermill GIS Lab, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History) shows the research results. Research like this is critical in helping us, and partners across Pittsburgh, plan to protect the trees that are so important to our city. 

Thank you to Rhiannon for contributing the content for this blog, creating the interactive map, and for her tremendous research work. Want to learn more about ALB and what you can do? Read on here!

Park Threats, Trees and Forestry