By Nick Mordowanec
Dec. 13, 2009
LANSING, Mich. — Ever since the emerald ash borer swept through Michigan in the summer of 2002, the state has spent tens of millions of dollars to subdue it.
But the exotic beetle thought to have come to the United States through airplane or ship cargo remains rampant.
Adult beetles cause minimal damage by nibbling on foliage, but the larvae feed on the inner bark of trees, disrupting nutrient and water flow.
“Its devastating. If you look around Lansing these past two summers, you can see the impact, even if you drive around neighborhoods,” said Bert Cregg, associate professor of horticulture and forestry at Michigan State University. “Ash was one of the most popular trees. It’s on par with losing Dutch elm trees.”
The ash borer isn’t limited to Michigan, although that’s where most of the damage has taken place. Other areas hit by the beetle include Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, as well as Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
The Department of Agriculture (MDA) has set different quarantine levels across both peninsulas, ranging from one to three, with three the most extreme.
All 68 counties in the Lower Peninsula are designated Level One because the ash borer is present in each of them.
Level Two quarantines are based on several isolated occurrences in contiguous areas of Alger, Chippewa, Delta, Houghton, Mackinac and Schoolcraft counties in the Upper Peninsula.
Level Three quarantines are in place in the remaining parts of those U.P. counties and Keweenaw and Luce counties.
To date, the ash borer has been responsible for the demise of 30 million ash in Michigan alone. Because no remedy is known yet, the toll could rise to 700 million.
“The emerald ash borer has cost the state $40 million, and zones are still being quarantined,” said Don Koivisto, director of the MDA. “It also harms metro areas where wires aren’t buried. It’s a big issue.”
As trees in suburban and urban areas die, they become potential hazards to electrical systems as branches may become dislodged and hit wires.
Consumers Energy said it takes a three-pronged approach to the problem such as aggressively removing dead trees, identifying dead or dying trees more quickly and communicating with customers in a more timely fashion.
Not only is the infestation a major concern for the state’s ecology, it’s also important for residents.
If trees in a yard become infected, then the homeowner must remove them for safety and appearance, but also to prevent further infestation – which may cost hundreds of dollars per tree.
To minimize the spread of the ash borer, transporting firewood is illegal in quarantined areas.
Cregg said, “The Lower Peninsula is infested so it doesn’t really matter. However, you can’t move firewood from the Lower Peninsula into the Upper Peninsula because quarantine levels change.”
Under MDA rules the sale or movement of ash in and out of Michigan is prohibited. Also, products — like pallets and crates — must be bark-free.
Koivisto said, “Wood has decreased in market value. Ash trees go down in groups, creating a spin-off effect.”
Quarantine efforts are under way to make sure the dreaded beetles don’t spread in the wild — especially in the Upper Peninsula.
“Any time there is an expansion of the beetles’ footprint in an area, it poses an increased risk of infestation to any area of Michigan or in other states that have the emerald ash borer,” said Jennifer Holton, public information officer for the MDA. “Ash trees in our state inhabit substantial areas of wetland, floodplain and stream edge habitat, as well as our hardwood forests.”
Cregg said homeowners could still salvage some ash, although insecticides are costly. “There’s not really much we can do besides that.”
The natural range for the emerald ash borer was eastern Russia, northern China, Japan and Korea. Before June of 2002, it had never been found in North America.
Nick Morodowanec reports for Capital News Service
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.