The Transylvania Times -

As Emerald Ash Borer Spreads In North Carolina, A Call Goes Out For Landowners To Help Save Trees


June 19, 2017

Courtesy photo

The emerald ash borer leaves distinctive tunnels.

Western North Carolina has been hit hard by exotic tree pests and diseases. We all know the story of chestnut blight that wiped out the most numerous and important tree in our forests in the early 1900s. In recent years we have lived to watch the deep green of our hemlocks fade to gray as hemlock woolly adelgid sucks the life out of our most important shade-tolerant conifer. Now, we are watching as a tidal wave of emerald ash borer beetles (EAB) crashes through our forests.

If you are not familiar with the emerald ash borer, it is a small, metallic-green beetle from the Eurasian Continent that is fatal to all species of North American ash trees. The adults are able to smell ash trees at a distance of over a mile, can fly up to five miles in a year, and are often moved hundreds of miles by people hauling firewood. The adults lay their eggs on the bark of ash trees and the larvae of the EAB bore holes into the trees and start eating the cambium - the living part of the tree just below the bark. The larvae start in the high limbs and work their way down the tree until it is girdled. The EAB typically kills trees within three to five years of infestation.

In Western North Carolina, we have three native species of ash: white ash, green ash, and Biltmore ash - which was named for the Biltmore School of Forestry, where the first herbarium specimen was collected in 1898. Ash trees grow large and graceful, with straight trunks and long-spreading branches. They are often planted as street trees and the EAB has inflicted billions of dollars of damage to landscape trees in the central U.S. The wood of ash trees is especially valuable for furniture, musical instruments and baseball bats. That's right: the EAB threatens to eliminate the tree behind the great American pastime. While the wood of ash is most famous for making baseball bats, music fans will also appreciate that it is used to build the bodies of the iconic Fender Stratocaster guitar.

In our local forests, ash trees grow in rich coves and slopes, and the tallest known white ash on Earth occurs in Haywood County. While they may not be the most abundant trees, our ashes are important to our cultural and natural heritage, and they are going the way of the dodo. The EAB is known to be present in Buncombe, Graham, Haywood, Madison, Mitchell, Swain and Yancey counties and will spread throughout the region in the next two years.

If we do nothing, every single tree will die. The problem is that by the time ash trees start showing enough decline that the average person notices, it's probably too late to save them.

Some were shocked when the news broke that the EAB was confirmed in Asheville this year.

Those that have been watching the EAB chew its way across North America are not surprised as the green menace was detected near Weaverville two years ago.

If you have ash trees that you would like to save, insecticides are the best bet.

The USDA Forest Service is doing good work investigating natural enemies, but the EAB is such a devastating pest that these natural enemies can't be relied on to save trees. Treatments can only occur in the spring and the window for treating in 2017 has already past.

My advice for people living in Western North Carolina that want to save ash trees is to begin treating trees in 2018 and continue until the wave of the EAB has passed 5 - 7 years after they arrive.

Courtesy photo

An emerald ash borer up close.

Pisgah National Forest completed the planning necessary to save ash trees in June 2017. In a short two-week window the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and MountainTrue were able to treat over four miles of the Appalachian Trail in Madison and Haywood counties.

The Forest Service hopes to save a genetic component of ash in North Carolina that can be used to restore the species after the EAB passes through.

This will require the help of partners like the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Pisgah Conservancy, Mountain-True and private citizens. With enough effort and resources we can ensure that our grandchildren have more large ash trees than we have mature American chestnuts.

Kelly is a biologist with the environmental nonprofit MountainTrue.


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