An insect that is suspected of arriving in the United States on a shipment of East Asian lumber in 2002, the emerald ash borer has now made its home across the American Rust Belt, and has expanded to New York State. These glassy-eyed invaders have already forced a federal quarantine from Iowa to western New York and are now making their way down New York Thruway 87, having been identified throughout the Hudson Valley in Albany, Greene, Ulster and Orange counties. This month, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation announced its latest expansion of the quarantine adding all or part of 22 counties ranging from the Southern Tier to the eastern state border. This means no unprocessed wood can be transported across state borders. For the public, this refers particularly to firewood which can harbor insect larvae. So far, this will exclude Rockland and Westchester County, as well as New York City, where the beetles have not yet colonized.
These tree-eaters have already amassed significant damage in the midwest, capable of consuming forests of ash in a span of five years. Currently, there are thirteen states either entirely or partially quarantined under the federal order. New York’s forested areas include 900 million ash trees, which comprise approximately 10% of New York City’s 5 million trees. In a worst case scenario, losing the ash would have quite an environmental impact. New York’s urban forest takes in some 1,350,000 tons of carbon annually, more than any other North American city, and saving the city an estimated $8 million in pollution remediation spending.
The issue is made more pertinent by their rapid spread and impressive, if not worrisome reproduction rates. In their short two month lifespan, a female emerald ash borer can produce 100 eggs, of which half are female. This means after 10 years, a single female will have 50 trillion descendents looking for that nearest ash tree. Detecting the half inch, fluorescent green insects and infected trees is difficult and often, ash trees won’t bear symptoms until it’s too late.
Look no further than the baseball diamond to see the effects outside of a forest context. Louisville Slugger has long provided America’s baseball heroes with white ash bats, preferred for their light, and small porous nature. As of now, the ash borer has closed in on within one hundred miles of the company’s source forest in western Pennsylvania, threatening to endanger the ash baseball bat. Furniture makers are likewise worried. Forest-related manufacturing adds approximately $9 billion to the economy.
To reduce unnecessary tree damage, the DEC urges citizens to learn how to properly identify the emerald ash borer and infested trees before taking any remedial action. The DEC’s information page on the invader includes information on identification and how to report sightings and infestations.
Photo: Forestry Images