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Insects that destroy ash trees discovered in East Tennessee

Kevin Castle • Jul 27, 2010 at 9:03 AM

A tiny bug that packs a punch strong enough to wipe out thousands of ash trees has been discovered in East Tennessee, state forestry officials announced Tuesday.

The emerald ash borer was discovered at a truck stop in Knox County near the Loudon County border, continuing its migration southward, according to Division of Forestry information and education specialist Tim Phelps.

“Its American origin started in Michigan. Apparently it came over on a shipment of wood packing from Asia, and it has been making its way South ever since,” said Phelps of the pest, which has been identified in 13 states including Tennessee’s neighbors Kentucky and Virginia.

“This insect really has no boundaries in terms of what it will do to wipe out all ash trees. We have four species of ash in (Tennessee): green, white, pumpkin and blue.”

Logs that the bugs were found in were sent off for testing to labs operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which confirmed the discovery of the emerald ash borer.

The bugs are the size of Abe Lincoln’s head on a penny, are dark green in size, and migrate from April to September.

In urban settings, ash is a very stress-resistant wood that provides shade and ornamental benefits, while its timberland uses make it a primary component of products such as baseball bats, furniture and other wood-based products that can withstand punishment.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture instituted a quarantine Tuesday in Knox and Loudon counties that prohibits transporting firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber and other material that can spread the bug as a means to try and stop the migration.

“We knew EAB could potentially reach Tennessee, and we’re prepared to help slow the spread of the infestation and protect our forest resources.” said Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Ken Givens. “We will be working closely with federal officials and other stakeholders to determine the extent of the infestation and to take steps to limit its spread.”

Phelps said efforts are under way in various states to try and prevent the spread of the insect, including public education programs and traps set in Tennessee over the past several years to try and see if the borer had moved into the Volunteer State.

“If you look at national maps pinpointing where the borer has been found, you will see that this Tennessee case is particularly troubling because (Knox County) is not connected to any location where the bug has been previously,” said Phelps.

The Division of Forestry estimates that 10 million urban ash trees in Tennessee are potentially at risk from the emerald ash borer. The risk represents an estimated value loss of $2 billion. There are an estimated 261 million ash trees on Tennessee public and private timberland potentially valued as high as $9 billion.

Phelps said one step residents can take to prevent the spread of borers is to leave cut firewood on your property.

“This thing is movable and is mainly transported by people, so if you go camping use firewood located there. Do not bring wood back from where you camped. Do not buy firewood from outside of the state,” Phelps warned.

Residents can also help by keeping a lookout for possible infestation. It takes nearly three years for the bug to totally kill the tree, and adults leave a D-shaped hole in the bark of the tree that measures one-eighth inch across.

More details about the emerald ash borer are available at www.tn.gov/agriculture/eab.

Reports can also be given by calling the Regulatory Services Division at 1-800-628-2631.

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