Wednesday, August 06, 2008

While you were out...

The morning started innocently enough. I walked in three hours late to work with unbrushed hair, no makeup, clutching coffee and simple mementos from Oregon for my wonderful boss. The fine folks I flew with sent my luggage--wine, cheese, cherries among it--to Chicago rather than to Dallas, so following a 12 hour drive from Louisiana, we arrived in Missouri with nothing but carry-on baggage of library books, smooth basalt, shells and Doug fir cones. Not even a toothbrush.

He dusted the black sand off the shells and rocks, perched the Doug fir cone next to the smiling picture of his daughter Jenny clutching not one but three medals she received for her time trials ("but she's mean as a snake," he says). "So," he says, leaning back in his chair, smiling, "tell me about Oregon." The oak savanna made me want to burn more in Missouri...we need to revisit the reintroduction of elk on the we have anything as cool as kelp beds in Missouri?...if so, can I go dive it?...boy, they clearcut right up to the road there...oh, yeah, I wore a sweater everyday (as sweat dripped down the side of my face).

Your turn.

He convinced the state to buy a big, desirable chunk of land north of the Missouri River...he interviewed a talented small mammal specialist for my former position in southeast Missouri...oh, and...a population of Emerald Ash Borers was found in the Ozarks: "Not on our land, but way, way too close for comfort." This explained why the rest of the Natural History Program was not around to accept their rocks and shells. They were all at a press conference, a consortium, a veritable doomsday planning meeting.

I had actually received a text message about this last week while I was looking for sand dollars at low tide, so I wasn't too surprised when he saved the worst news for last. State agencies in Missouri have feared this moment for years. In short, because I trust my friend Ted will tell you all about it in his entomology journal (located to the right), emerald ash borers are introduced beetles that have essentially lain waste to the forests and woodlands of Michigan, Indiana, and several other states. They live on ash trees, destroying them by burrowing into the cambium layer to lay eggs. Because the beetles kill trees, firewood dealers often serve as unwitting vectors in their spread. Missouri is the farthest west the insect has been found, and it likely arrived in out-of-state firewood. Oh, we've had a public information campaign that illustrates a cartooned, menacing beetle carrying a suitcase with a message about transporting firewood, but in a state that depends on outdoor recreation, activities that involve campfires, it's apparently rather difficult to track where firewood vendors buy their firewood. If you're a firewood vendor with thousands of dead ash trees in your woods, what else would you sell as firewood?

Surrounding states have all kinds of problems with their woods. They don't burn enough, really, so the simplest disease or forest pest infestation can have dire effects on their woods. Naturally, I leaned back in my chair this morning and asked, pointedly, "so, we need to make our woods resilient. We need to burn more. Right? That should keep it under control?" Under most circumstances, he'd agree. You bet, he'd say, pointing to single exotic species plants in a sea of a healthy prairie plants. Exotics can be outcompeted in healthy systems, so I wasn't expecting his response.

"We've never dealt with anything like this," he muttered gravely. Our mode of attack is unlike other treatments, which usually involves landscape management, not single species control. When emerald ash borers are discovered in a tree, the tree is removed, chopped into tiny bits, then burned. The impact this will have on the canopy of our woodlands will be noticeable; ash trees make up something on the order of 4% of Ozark woodlands. Hardest hit areas will actually be urban and suburban neighborhoods, where fast growing ash trees are often grown for their shade. What follows is the official release about the discovery. The take home message remains: buy firewood locally, or burn your own....

Discovery of forest pest triggers state, federal response

The emerald ash borer could be devastating to Missouri trees.

LAKE WAPPAPELLO-State and federal officials are working overtime to
determine the extent of an emerald ash borer infestation at Lake
Wappapello and develop a strategy for containing the problem.

The infestation came to light July 23 when U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) scientists discovered seven suspicious beetles on
traps at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Greenville Recreation Area
in Wayne County. Officials with the USDA confirmed the identity of the
insects Friday.

Collin Wamsley, state entomologist with the Missouri Department of
Agriculture, said his agency and the Missouri departments of
Conservation and Natural Resources are prepared to deal with the
infestation. Before proceeding, however, both state and federal agencies
need to determine the its extent.

"Although it is a disappointment to find the early detection of the
emerald ash borer, it is not a surprise," said Wamsley. "We have
been preparing for an event like this for some time. Right now, we are
doing what we can to determine the location of the emerald ash borer. We
hope to have that information soon and begin the next steps in battling
this pest."

Wamsley said the first steps that will be taken include conducting
visual searches for emerald ash borers and placing more traps around the
initial detection site. This is under way. The results of these surveys
will dictate further actions.

The emerald ash borer is a small, metallic green beetle native to Asia.
Its larvae burrow into the bark of ash trees, causing trees to starve
and die. While the emerald ash borer does not pose any direct risk to
public health, it does threaten Missouri's ash tree populations.

Ash trees make up approximately 3 percent of forests and 14 percent of
urban trees in Missouri. Since no ash trees in North America are known
to be resistant to the pest, infestations are devastating to these tree

Missouri is the ninth state to have a confirmed emerald ash borer
infestation. The pest was first found in Michigan in 2002. Since that
time, seven other states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland,
Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia) have confirmed infestations.
Missouri is the farthest south and west of any other known emerald ash
borer infestation.

The emerald ash borer trapping effort that revealed the infestation is
part of a monitoring program started in 2004. It is Missouri's
contribution to a nation-wide early detection effort coordinated by USDA
in partnership with the Missouri departments of Agriculture,
Conservation and Natural Resources and the University of Missouri.

Emerald ash borer traps are purple, prism-shaped devices with sticky
outer surfaces. The borers are attracted by the color and by chemical
scents that mimic a stressed ash tree. Insects that land on the traps
are stuck and can be identified by periodic checking. So far, emerald
ash borers have not shown up on any other traps throughout the state.

Although adult emerald ash borers are strong fliers, they are less
likely to travel long distances when plenty of host trees are available
nearby. However, they can move long distances on firewood and nursery
stock. State officials urge Missourians not to transport firewood from
one site to another. Instead, they suggest that campers buy firewood

"The discovery of this highly destructive pest at a campground is a
strong indication that it probably arrived in firewood," said
Conservation Department Forest Entomologist Rob Lawrence. "If people
knew how devastating this insect can be, they would never consider
bringing firewood from out of state."

1 comment:

Ted C. MacRae said...


You've summarized the situation quite nicely - not much for me to add. I expected this would happen later rather than sooner, as the beetle expanded its range on its own accord. I, apparently stupidly, thought we would be safe from dispersal by firewood - I mean, there's no way anybody would ship/carry firewood out of such a widely publicized quarantine zone, right?

I hate to be sober, but I see little chance that the Missouri infestation will be effectively contained, much less eradicated. The track record with infestations in other states is poor - the biology of the beetle makes it almost impossible to detect until it is already well established. Foresters, land managers, and the other few of us who follow such things will be the only ones who care for now, but sit back and watch the public outcry when this things starts killing trees in the urban/suburban landscape. Watch the outcry become a revolt when homeowners see state officials cutting down outwardly healthy ash trees in their neighborhoods. Some surburban neighborhoods here in St. Louis have almost exclusively utilized green ash for the canopy landscape. Yes, it's gonna get ugly!

p.s. what happened to my postcard ;-)