|For Immediate Release
Contact: Dr. Chris Asaro 434.220.9060
|July 12, 2012
The emerald ash borer (EAB), Agrilus planipennis, is a non-native, invasive, wood-boring beetle from Asia that was first detected in Detroit in 2002 and has now spread to 15 states, including Virginia. First found in Fairfax County in 2003, it has been recently confirmed in the counties of Pittsylvania, Halifax, Charlotte, Mecklenburg, Lee, Buchanan, Hanover, Warren, Caroline, Prince Edward, Giles, Loudoun and Stafford. Previous finds include the counties of Arlington, Prince William and Frederick.
VDOF Forest Health Specialist Dr. Chris Asaro said, “EAB is capable of killing all 187 million native ash trees in Virginia, regardless of their initial health and condition. In addition to the ecological problems this will cause, it will have a significant economic impact on the Commonwealth.”
State Forester of Virginia Carl Garrison said, “While the ash tree’s most famous product is baseball bats, it’s also used for flooring, cabinets, tool handles and pallets. The ash resource for Virginia is estimated to have a total value of $170 million, primarily from sawtimber. But the impacts associated with EAB go way beyond that. Government at all levels will face tens of millions of dollars in expenses for removal of the dead trees; the planting of replacement trees, and the loss of ecosystem services provided by urban and suburban ash trees.”
For the last four years, the Department of Forestry has partnered with several other Virginia state agencies, private businesses and the federal government to slow the spread of the EAB through a “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign. Unfortunately – and in spite of state-mandated quarantines in several counties – citizens and visitors to the Commonwealth continue to carry firewood from infested areas to non-infested areas thereby delivering the shiny green and highly destructive beetles to new stands of ash trees, which they can kill in just three years.
Dr. Asaro said, “Despite our collective best efforts to slow down the emerald ash borer, the evidence is quite clear that people are inadvertently moving EAB tens or hundreds of miles in one shot via untreated firewood (which may include ash) and other ash wood products. We know this because, on average, adult borers fly no more than a mile or two, if that, on their own each year.”
While reluctant to make any predictions, the VDOF entomologist said, “My guess for the next decade is that EAB will permeate much of the eastern United States from Maine to Minnesota to Texas and Florida. And based on what little I have seen so far, it’s easy for me to imagine emerald ash borer rendering ash trees in Virginia ecologically and economically extinct within a few decades from now. This would put EAB on par with chestnut blight in terms of the speed and efficiency with which American chestnut was effectively eliminated from the Virginia landscape.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plot data, ash in Virginia represents approximately 1.8 percent of total forested volume statewide – that’s 187 million trees. The vast majority of this volume is made up of two species – white ash (Fraxinus americana) and green ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) – with several other minor species in the mix (Carolina ash, F. caroliniana; pumpkin ash, F. profunda; black ash, F. nigra). Northern and western Virginia have a slightly higher abundance of ash on average (2 percent to 2.5 percent) compared to the southern piedmont and coastal plain (1 percent to 1.5 percent). These are regional averages, and local variation in ash abundance can be considerable. For example, white ash tends to be more of a scattered upland species that rarely is found in large clumps, whereas green ash is better adapted to riparian zones and/or floodplains where it can be extremely abundant and sometimes even make up the majority of a forest stand.
Ash abundance can also vary considerably in urban forests. Recent inventory data for many major and minor municipalities across Virginia indicate ash represents between 1 percent and 5 percent of street trees, with most cities averaging between 2 percent and 3 percent ash among street trees.
Dr. Asaro said, “Depending on several factors, such as location and size, removing a dead ash tree in an urban area could easily cost a city or town more than $1,000 per tree. Multiply that by tens of thousands of ash trees and you can easily see the tremendous financial impact EAB will have on Virginia’s local governments.”
EAB is extremely difficult to detect early due to its cryptic nature – it spends most of its life cycle as a grub, or larva, feeding under the bark. Once discovered, it is often determined to have been present in an area for many years. That’s because it can take several years for these relatively small beetles, which have a one-year life cycle, to build up their numbers and overcome a tree by girdling. Often, trees must be infested and re-infested for several years before they begin to show characteristic symptoms, such as branch dieback, epicormic sprouting and D-shaped emergence holes on the bark.
Dr. Asaro said, “By the time EAB is detected, trees are usually dead or dying, and the insect has already spread to new locations. Indeed, after the initial discovery of EAB in Detroit, it eventually became clear that it was introduced to the region years earlier. Unfortunately, nobody knew to look for it then, and it was not a widely known insect outside of eastern Asia. The plain fact is that we have never before seen an insect pest like the emerald ash borer; we have never dealt with a non-native, invasive wood-boring beetle that feeds in the cambium and girdles trees with such speed and efficiency. If we can’t locate EAB before trees begin dying, it’s nearly impossible to get ahead of it and slow it down.”
The release of insect biological control agents against emerald ash borer is underway. While scientists won’t know for some time what positive benefit this will have, if any, they believe it is worth trying provided it can be done safely (in other words, the newly released predator or parasitoid insects do not have unanticipated, non-target impacts). Biological control, unfortunately, has shown more failures than successes in attempts to deal with other insect populations.
State Forester Garrison said, “On a small scale, there are several systemic chemical control options on the market that are targeted, environmentally safe, and highly effective at protecting trees. This is practical only on a very limited basis, however. Unless individual ash trees are of great size and of significant value – for example those found at Mount Vernon, in the City of Abingdon or at the University of Virginia, the cost and practicality of performing chemical applications on individual trees, let alone 187 million of them, every two to three years is prohibitive.”
The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians. Headquartered in Charlottesville, the Agency has forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide citizen service and public safety protection across the Commonwealth. VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.
With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 144,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide more than $27.5 Billion annually in benefits to the Commonwealth.