Emerald ash borer needs to be contained, and soon, say conservationists

·3 min read
Emerald ash borer females lay eggs in bark crevices on ash trees and larvae feed underneath the bark of ash trees. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - image credit)
Emerald ash borer females lay eggs in bark crevices on ash trees and larvae feed underneath the bark of ash trees. (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources - image credit)

Fourteen millimetres long and bright green in colour, the emerald ash borer may not look like a threat.

But conservationists say the beetle could devastate Canada's forests within the next few years if it isn't contained.

"It's expanding its range," said Andrew Holland, a spokesperson for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

"Once this beetle gets established in a certain area, 99 per cent of those ash trees will die within eight to 10 years."

Holland said the best way to stop the spread of the beetle is by limiting the transportation of firewood.

"It just sort of gets around on movement of firewood in the nursery stock, branches, that type of thing," said Holland. "It's a hitchhiker and it can cause a lot of damage."

Jim Verboom, a co-owner of Nova Tree in Glenholme, N.S., has been in the lumber industry for 40 years. He said he fears a repeat of what happened to Nova Scotia's elm trees when they were hit by a ruinous disease, commonly carried by beetle species.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

"The best way to get a picture of what is going to come is what happened with the elm trees that we used to have along our streets 20, 25 years ago," said Verboom. "They all ended up dying from Dutch elm disease. We have very few elm trees left in Nova Scotia."

Even as recently as last year, arborists were vaccinating trees in the province in an effort to save them.

Dutch elm disease is caused by a fungus that impedes a tree's water conducting system. The emerald ash borer feeds on ash trees and disrupts the flow of water, effectively cutting off the food supply.

"It [the emerald ash borer] basically strangles the tree to death in a one to two-year period," said Verboom.

Submitted by Nature Conservancy of Canada
Submitted by Nature Conservancy of Canada

Holland said losing ash trees is significant.

"Ash trees are really important for our economy, too, because they're used for furniture and baseball bats and hockey sticks and … really durable tool handles and snowshoes and by Indigenous communities for baskets and this type of thing."

In a recent press release from the nature conservancy, senior conservation biologist Dan Kraus said that the emerald ash borer has already affected municipalities across the province.

"Emerald ash borer can limit your ability to enjoy the environment around you and decrease property values," Kraus said.

"Many municipalities have been forced to spend significant dollars to remove and replace ash trees. The broader cost to our forested areas and the species they support may be immeasurable."

'This remains a major concern'

The release also states that some municipalities and property owners are using parasitic wasps or injecting an insecticide into the tree. Many areas are also using green sticky traps and taking branch samples to detect new infestations.

Holland said emerald borer infestations would not only mean the loss of ash trees to the economy, but it would also mean the costly removal of ash trees by the city.

He advises people to be mindful.

"We wanted to update people in terms of the presence of this beetle, that this remains a major concern."

If people see emerald ash borers or unhealthy, damaged trees, they should report them to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency or inaturalist, an app used by scientists to identify invasive species.

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