Certain insects have been in my mind lately.
Over the long July 4th weekend, I visited friends in Albany, NY and then in Burlington, VT. As I traveled, I saw lots of billboards that were part of an ad campaign against moving firewood. I also saw dozens of odd-looking purple boxes hanging from ash trees in both states.
Then today, I joined Alex and Mara, our two forest survey interns, for a morning in the field identifying and measures trees in campus forests. As we worked through one of their survey plots with quite a few ash trees, the conversation turned to the future of ash tees in Vermont, given the presence of the emerald ash borer (EAB) in eastern New York.
This tiny, metallic green insect represents a substantial potential threat to Vermont’s forests. Having previously lived in southeastern Michigan, where one of the first outbreaks of EAB occurred, I have witnessed the magnitude of EAB damage and the speed with which it spreads. The EAB was first found near Detroit in 2002, within five years, it was nearly impossible to find a healthy, living ash tree. To date, over 30 million ash trees have been lost in southeastern Michigan alone.
Nationally, the EAB has spread to many states and has proven troublesome to contain. Currently, there has been no evidence of the EAB in Vermont, but recently it has been found in the nearby Catskills region of New York. The main culprit for the spread of the destructive EAB is the movement of firewood from an infested area to a new, unaffected area. Since the EAB eggs and larvae inside the wood do not die when the tree is cut, they can still emerge and cause extensive damage after traveling across town lines and state borders in firewood. Since camping is a popular summer pastime in the Northeast, there is a lot of concern that traveling firewood will spread the insect very quickly through the northern forests and cities. As an effort to prevent widespread damage, many states have a ban on moving firewood, while the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of the USDA maintains a federal quarantine on EAB infested counties and occasionally entire states.
Those purple boxes I mentioned earlier? They are part of a national effort to detect and monitor the spread of the EAB carried out through the USDA and cooperating states. The adult beetles are attracted to the purple color as well as to a scented oil designed to mimic the scent of a stressed ash tree. They then get caught in the extremely sticky glue that coats all three sides of the prism. Although the traps will not catch the volume of adult beetles needed to control the spread of the EAB, they will hopefully prove to be a valuable early-detection tool for this dangerous forest pest.
The take home message? Don’t move firewood!
More information about the Emerald Ash Borer, efforts to contain its spread, and how to identify the insect and its ash tree hosts can be found here, an informational website maintained by APHIS.