USDA: Tree Beetle May Spread Across U.S.

Todd Richmond, AP, May 2, 2007

An exotic beetle that destroys ash trees could spread from the Great Lakes states across the east-central United States within the next two decades, federal agriculture officials said Tuesday.

The emerald ash borer already has infested trees in more than 1,200 cities and townships in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio, said Philip Bell, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regional manager for the beetle.

If no action is taken to stop it, the beetle could infest more than 12,000 municipalities from Minnesota to North Carolina by 2027, he told the state Senate environmental and Assembly forestry committees during a joint hearing.

The UDSA hopes to contain the beetle in the Great Lake states and eventually wipe it out, Bell said. Wisconsin remains beetle-free but has been testing for the creature and preparing responses, making the state a great place to make a stand, Bell said.

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State Rep. Frank Boyle, D-Superior, a forestry committee member, said it’s inevitable the borer will invade Wisconsin. He wondered whether loggers and landowners should start cutting down their ash trees now and sell them while they’re still worth something.

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The emerald ash borer is a tiny, metallic green beetle that feeds on the layer of wood just beneath the bark of the ash tree, cutting off water and nutrients and killing the tree.

The bug, native to Asia, was first discovered in the Detroit area in 2002. Authorities say it probably arrived in wood packing crates.

The beetle could destroy the 717 million ash trees in Wisconsin’s rural forests and 5.4 million ash trees along streets, resulting in a loss of up to $4 billion, said Jane Cummings Carlson, the state Department of Natural Resources’ forest health protection coordinator.

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Walker and Cummings Carlson outlined several additional facets in the state’s plan to combat the beetle, including:

* Warning people who live in Minneapolis and Chicago and own cabins in Wisconsin not to bring in firewood from out-of-state.

* Encouraging landowners to think about thinning their ash trees when pruning.

* Monitoring research on the beetle and looking for any ash species that might prove resistant to the beetle.

* Using pesticides.

* Preserving ash tree seeds for replanting if the beetle wipes out large numbers of trees.

* Chopping down infected stands.

The hearing comes after word broke that government inspectors found two Menards home improvement stores in southern Wisconsin didn’t immediately comply with a recall order to return thousands of bundles of firewood from an Illinois supplier in keeping with the federal quarantine. Bell called the incident a wake-up called but said “we got it stopped.”

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