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Emerald ash borer threatens America’s favorite pasttime

Consumer Reports News: August 23, 2011 01:59 PM

The wooden baseball bats preferred by many major leaguers are being threatened by a tiny invasive insect that likes to feast on ash trees. Found in 15 states and Canada, emerald ash borers are munching their way eastward across the nation’s midsection leaving stands of dead ash trees in their wake. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is taking steps to rid the trees of this menace and asking people in the affected states for help.

Found as far north and west as Minnesota, as far east as New York and as far south as Tennessee (see map), the small, metallic green bugs have destroyed thousands of ash trees and have been found in regions that produces wood for such iconic bats as the Louisville Slugger and the Rawlings Adirondack.

To save the trees, scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and state conservation agencies are quarantining firewood from affected states, hanging traps in the trees and experimenting with the release of non-stinging Asian wasps that are the borer’s natural predator. You may have seen the emerald ash borer traps shaped like purple prisms hanging along some of the country’s roads. The borers are attracted to the color purple and then get stuck in the glue-like substance on the surface.

Purple_box.jpgBut the USDA is hoping that the release of the wasps will dispatch the emerald ash borer with more expedience. Recently, John Vandenberg, a USDA scientist, released wasps in New York’s Hudson Valley. "We'll all applaud when these things fly away," Vandenberg told the Wall Street Journal. "We'll cheer them on."

Because the borer can hitchhike in loads of firewood, New York and other states have prohibited the importation of all firewood, not just ash. The website Don’t Move Firewood explains the hazards. The USDA has two websites, the Emerald Ash Borer and Stop the Beetle, that offer more information and resources.

Currently, the emerald ash borer has been found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec. The damage they have caused since first being discovered in 2002 amounts to $20 billion, according to the USDA.

The borers are known to attack all 16 varieties of native ash trees. If you are a resident of one of the affected states or a bordering state and have ash trees on your property or nearby, check for these signs.

  • First, learn how to identify an ash tree. They have compound leaves and opposite branching, meaning each branch has a mate on the opposite side.
  • Learn how to identify the emerald ash borer. The adults are metallic green and about 1/2-inch long, which makes them difficult to spot.
  • Examine the bark of the tree. Adults leave a D-shaped exit hole in the bark when they emerge in spring.
  • Look for signs of woodpeckers. These birds like the larvae of emerald ash borers. Heavy woodpecker damage on ash trees can be a sign of infestation.

If you find signs of emerald ash borers, report it to your state Plant Health Director, a state-by-state list can be found on the USDA’s website.

Mary H.J. Farrell

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