A new bug that can kill that ash tree in the front yard in just a couple of years has been discovered in Louisiana.
On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry reported that the state joined 24 others in being the new home of the emerald ash borer insect that has wreaked havoc on ash tree populations from Michigan to Arkansas.
First discovered in the United States in 2002 in Michigan, the insect quickly traveled to other Midwest states and then down the East Coast. On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry confirmed that the beetle had made it to Webster Parish in the northwestern part of the state.
“We’ve been expecting it though because it was found 30 miles from the border (with Louisiana) last year,” said Tim Schowalter, professor and head of the Department of Entomology at LSU Agricultural Center. Although the insect can migrate on its own slowly over the landscape, the rapid spread of the insect is likely caused by people moving firewood from one area to another.
“That’s a key to how that insect is spread,” Schowalter said.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry started a “Don’t Move Firewood” campaign to try to raise awareness about how firewood can spread the emerald ash borer and other invasive species. The emerald ash borer kills trees as the larvae tunnel under the bark, disrupting the tree’s ability to circulate food and water. The tree dies over a couple of years, usually from the top of the tree down. When a tree has a lot of the insects, the tree will start to die from the top and most of the canopy of the tree can be dead within two years.
“It’s one of our more valuable hardwoods,” said William deGravelles, forester with A. Wilbert’s Sons, L.L.C. The company manages 125,000 acres of mainly forested land, including some land in Iberville, West Baton Rouge, Pointe Coupee and St. Martin parishes.
With uses from furniture to baseball bats, the ash is one of the two species that the group normally replants in an area after a harvest. But, the group has had to rethink that strategy with the specter of the insect moving farther south, he said. Because the forests are on a 60-year rotation, he said, even if the insect isn’t in their area now, it could be by the time the forest matures.
Although ash makes up a small percentage of the forest cover in Louisiana — only 2 percent to 5 percent — it is a commercial species that also is familiar to people in cities.
“It’s usually in our basins, but it’s also used as an ornamental in our neighborhoods,” said Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain.
In addition, because ash trees are primarily found along waterways, they provide an important benefit to water quality and fish habitat, Schowalter said.
Currently, the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry is working with a variety of federal agencies to survey just how widespread the beetle might be around the initial two-acre infestation in Webster Parish. Once that survey is complete, Strain said, a quarantine will be placed around that area that will prohibit the sale of nursery stock and prevent hardwood firewood from leaving the area. In addition, ash trees harvested for lumber must be debarked and either treated with heat or chemicals before the material is allowed to leave, Strain said.
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