The Emerald Ash Borer has arrived in the Bluegrass and, as unwelcome guests are wont to do, it’ll stay until all the food is gone. The metallic-green beetle was positively identified in Kentucky on May 22, 2009, in Shelby and Jessamine counties, and sightings in no fewer than four other counties, including Jefferson, have been reported.
The larvae of the EAB chew labyrinthine tunnels under the bark of ash trees and disrupt the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients throughout its system. This, in conjunction with the adult’s craving for the leaves of the ash species, will lead to the untimely death of any infested tree. The EAB then moves out in concentric circles to any adjacent ashes, flying as far as half a mile.
(A brief note: While I hope to be a devoted acolyte, penitent before the beauty of both the Natural World and the English language, the word “larvae” is repulsive to me. I despise the word and its referents. They are my least favorite words in the language and my least favorite natural phenomenon, a duumvirate of displeasure. Seemingly endless are the lengths to which I will go on your behalf, gentle reader.)
With a trajectory not unlike that of Bob Seger, the pesky and seemingly indomitable beetle made its debut in Detroit and has rapidly spread throughout the Midwest, trailing destruction and a general sense of hopelessness in its wake, with the very real danger of spreading its carnage to the farthest reaches of the ash-populated world.
While the story of the EAB’s spread is not unprecedented, it highlights, once again, the impetuousness of global commerce and just good ol’ American laziness. I swear I don’t go looking for this stuff, my friends. It practically jumps out at every turn.
In all likelihood the first wave of Emerald Ash Borers arrived in Michigan in a wooden shipping crate. They’d spent the long crossing from Asia munching away cozily on the ash timbers in a box of cheap flashlights or Toby Keith CDs. Lazing about in their den, they may have commented on the shabbiness and generally sour demeanor of the crew and joked about Americans who, in spite of our unparalleled buying power, habitually and repeatedly purchase subpar consumer electronics. (I’m on my fourth DVD player in as many years.)
Once stateside the EAB must have been eager to take in the bucolic wonders of the North American woodlands. Dismayed by the ludicrous cost of rental vehicles and the mercurial imprecision of Greyhound schedules, the EAB was relieved to find out that if it just waited in a pile of cut firewood, outdoor enthusiasts — presumably uncomfortable with the prospect of gathering firewood in the actual forest — would come along and transport it across state lines, free of charge, into the heart of the North American ash population. Through Canada, along the eastern U.S. and into the Midwest it traveled. After lingering near Cincinnati it finally crossed into the commonwealth where, by some estimates, there are 220 million ash trees in the 11.6 million forested acres. Seventeen percent of the trees in Louisville are ash.
Everyone is scrambling to deal with the problem. The USDA has hung purple EAB traps all over the region in order to document the number of EABs. The governments in the affected states have taken out huge and expensive ad campaigns to discourage people from moving illicit firewood. University entomologists have practically log-jammed the Internet with informative web pages to facilitate first response from people who suspect they’ve seen the EAB.
Unfortunately it can be difficult to know if the EAB is present until it is too late. Some signs:
S-shaped tunnels beneath the bark.
Die back in the upper canopy.
Increased woodpecker activity.
New growth sprouting at the base of the trunk.
Small, distinct D-shaped exit holes in the bark.
If you have ash trees, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the EAB and start checking for any symptoms. There are preventative trunk treatments available and it is suggested that people within 10 miles of a known infestation begin treatment. I’m unfamiliar with the agent used in the application and cannot speak to its efficiency or safety. Suspected infestations should be reported to the Emerald Ash Borer Hotline at 1-866-322-4512. And for everyone’s sake, stop moving firewood around.