Emerald ash borer in half of U.S. states, says expert

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MICHIGAN — In some areas of Lower Michigan a person could mistake vast stretches of forest land for autumn in July, as huge stands of dead ash trees exhibit no leaves.

The work is from the invasive species known as the emerald ash borer, said John Bedford, pest response program analysis for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Although there are no clear estimates, the pest is known to be in every county in the Lower Peninsula and working its way through the Upper Peninsula, killing millions of ash trees.

He said like the American elm tree — which was destroyed from Dutch elm disease during the 20th century — ash trees in communities are dying.

“It was highly used in the urban environments and it didn’t have any known bad pest,” he said. “It was planted quite widely to replace the elms that were lost to Dutch elm disease.”

Like elm trees, ash will remain but is greatly reduced in numbers, Bedford said.

“The days of having these huge ash trees in yards and lining city streets is over,” he said.

As a result of the infestation, many homeowners are left with dead tree issues.

“And unfortunately there is no program to give people relief who need them cut down,” he said. “People with ash pretty much need to manage or deal with it themselves.”

Bedford said experts believe the pest got into the United States in the 1990s, but the infestation really ramped up beginning in 2002.

“It came from Eastern Asia, that is where the native range is, and more than likely came inside solid wood packing material,” Bedford said. “That could include pallets or wooden crates, things like that. It was in the larval state and it escaped from there. As best anyone can tell the initial place it all began was in Southeast Michigan.”

Bedford said it is important to know how the invasive species got into the country in the first place. He said with this information experts can better mitigate any situation like the emerald ash borer infestation from happening again.

“We talk about ‘pathways of destruction, and that information is used to better manage things,” he said. “There has also been some work on an international standard for solid wood and packing materials, on the shipping end, so hopefully the wood doesn’t have invasive species anymore.”

While the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and other agencies were working to keep the emerald ash borer from going into the Upper Peninsula, the bug made it there too.

“More than likely it was brought there by firewood or infested logs,” Bedford said. “That said, anyone who has an ash tree anywhere in Michigan who is not treating it with a pesticide has a 99 percent change of losing it to ash borer over time.”

As a result of this there is a quarantine status for hauling wood from the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula.

It is against the law to haul any firewood, regardless of type, he said.

“There is not a full time inspection station any longer; due to funding issues we had to back off on that,” Bedford said. “We do run random blitzes up there.”

There are stiff fines as well for people caught hauling wood into the area.

“If they are a first-time offender it starts at $1,000,” he said. “If it is a grievous offense, we can do a $250,000 fine and five years in jail.”

Bedford said in general there are no restrictions of movement of firewood in the Lower Peninsula, with a few exceptions.

“The DNR still restricts ash firewood from being brought into any of their facilities statewide,” he said. “They’ll catch you at the gate and they wouldn’t be real happy with you, but for other camping situations there are a whole host of rules, there are many county rules.”

He suggested calling ahead to find out the rules.

But the outlook is not all that grim. Bedford said they are working on ways to kill the emerald ash borer, including releasing a type of wasp that feeds on the insect. He said a major problem is that ash trees do not have natural enemies in the U.S.

More information about pesticide treatments and other ways to fight the emerald ash borer are available by visiting www.michigan.gov/mdard.

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