The emerald ash borer (EAB), which infects and kills ash trees, was detected in New York for the first time on June 15th — in the heart of the ash forests used to produce Louisville Slugger baseball bats.
First reported in North America in 2002 near Detroit, the beetle likely arrived via untreated wood packing materials. Since then, it has devastated the ash tree population in Detroit and the upper Midwest, killing millions of ash trees. If it continues to spread unchecked, it could damage or kill many ash trees across the United States.
Nature.org sat down with Troy Weldy, director of ecological management for The Nature Conservancy in New York, to get the details on this bedeviling bug and find out how we can all slow its spread.
"The ash borer can only travel short distances on its own — dispersal across large areas is almost always due to human movement. So, first and foremost: Don’t move firewood!"
- Troy Weldy, director of ecological management for The Nature Conservancy in New York
If the emerald ash borer is native to Asia, how did it get to the United States? And where is it now?
Most speculate that it arrived to North America via wood packing materials and/or shipping containers. Today, emerald ash borer is found throughout the upper Midwest and Ontario, with spot outbreaks in southern Quebec, Toronto, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Minnesota, Missouri and, most recently, New York.
What are its potential impacts?
EAB kills the ash trees it infects. We have three native species of ash in New York that are not only important to our natural world but also the forest industry.
These trees are ubiquitous on the landscape; they make up our forests, our street trees, our parks. They also are the backbone of most New York forests, which provide habitat for wildlife.
And we all rely on these forests, and these trees, in our everyday lives, too. They are used to construct our park benches, baseball bats and the floors and furniture in our homes. They clean our air, store our water, and sequester carbon, too.
What is The Nature Conservancy doing about forest pests?
The Conservancy has been working to prevent new pests and limit the spread of the ones already present. We’ve advocated for enhanced funding for hard-pressed federal and state programs that try to control the pests, built a multi-stakeholder coalition to encourage improved government and business policies to contain and prevent pest invasions, and researched the economic damage caused by the pests to make clear the threat to our nation’s communities.
We’re also working with non-profit organizations, for-profit corporations, government agencies, landowners, and academic scholars to raise awareness about the problem forest pests, such as the emerald ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle.
Recently we and partners have launched an innovative new program to try and reduce citizen movement of firewood. It includes a website, dontmovefirewood.org, light-hearted videos, and a presence on YouTube and Facebook.
Can the general public do anything to help stop this beetle from spreading?
Yes! The ash borer can only travel short distances on its own, but it can quickly spread hundreds of miles when businesses and average citizens unknowingly move it in firewood, logs and nursery trees. So, first and foremost: Don’t Move Firewood! Gather or buy firewood where you plan to burn it. Sometimes it takes years for a foreign pest to be found, so even if you don’t think emerald ash borer or another pest such as Asian longhorned beetle lives near you, please don’t move firewood. The health of North America’s forests rests on campers, hikers, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts hearing and following this simple message.
You can also keep an eye out for infestations in your community. Many infestations of pests have been found by everyday citizens that were curious about the world around them. You can educate yourself about the signs of foreign pests by viewing our photo gallery of pests.
What should we as a nation be doing to prevent future infestations?
International trade is a necessary part of our healthy economy. Unfortunately, that is also how most invasive forest pests arrive on our shores. Properly overseeing and regulating imports, and the packaging they arrive in, is a key to preventing these unwanted hitchhikers.
For instance, for the first time in 80 years, the USDA is comprehensively revising its regulationss that aim to prevent new invasive pests and pathogens from arriving on live plants. Improved regulations governing live plant imports could prevent new invasions thereby helping protect private landowners, the general public and plant-based industries. The Nature Conservancy is working hard to ensure that USDA’s revisions are effective, and we’re urging fast action so we don’t face more invaders through this pathway.
We also need a better system to detect invaders as soon as they arrive. We are promoting a more systematic approach to early detection, focused around known points of entry — such as our international ports. This will take federal and state support to become a reality.
Troy Weldy is director of ecological management for The Nature Conservancy in New York.