Tennessee ash trees in peril

Larry Woody • Sep 6, 2017 at 8:30 AM

A tiny green bug less than an inch long is capable of bringing down towering ash trees, and has decimated parts of forests in the eastern U.S.

Now it has eaten its way into Tennessee.

Officials say the Emerald Ash Borer is showing up in the state and presents Tennessee’s greatest forestry threat since a blight virtually wiped out the state’s chestnut trees almost a century ago.

Thanks to a re-planting program, chestnut trees in recent years have been making a comeback, but won’t be completely restored for another century.

Now, a new threat has arrived, this time to ash trees.

The Ash Borer first appeared in the U.S. from the Far East about 15 years ago, apparently arriving among shipped cargo. Since then the insects have steadily and rapidly spread into 30 states, among them Tennessee.

The mature insect doesn’t do the damage; it is the larva it lays beneath the bark that bores into the tree trunk, eventually causing the tree to die.

Once a tree is invaded by the pests, there is no known sure. Chemical treatments are expensive and have been met with limited success.

It is hard to detect the small holes the insects drill into tree trunks. Usually the first sign of infestation is the dying of limbs in the uppermost parts of the tree.

One unique idea that is being experimented with by forestry officials is the release of Asian wasps in areas invested with Ash Borers. The former invasive species eats the latter invasive species.

While solutions are being studied, the immediate focus is on preventing the spread of the destructive pests. That includes a ban on bringing firewood into new areas, including state parks.

Most parks have posted signs warning against bringing camp-fire firewood into the area. Many parks provide firewood, or allow locally-grown wood to be collected on-site.

Bringing in outside firewood can potentially introduce not only Emerald Ash Borers but other invasive pests as well.

Ash trees are a popular hardwood, and losing them would be a blow to the state’s forestry industry. The loss of the stately, towering trees would also deal an aesthetic blow to parks, greenways and residences.

Not being allowed to bring along firewood on a camping trip can be inconvenient, but it’s a small price to try to hold the bugs at bay until a more permanent fix can be found.

Just one imported pest could doom a forest, and once lost, the state’s ash trees – like the vast chestnut groves that were destroyed two generations ago – won’t recover in a lifetime.

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