Ash borer takes heavy toll on east coast trees

The Detroit News - - Front Page - As­so­ci­ated Press

New York — Five prom­i­nent species of ash tree in the east­ern U.S. have been driven to the brink of ex­tinc­tion from years of lethal at­tack by a bee­tle, a sci­en­tific group says.

Tens of mil­lions of trees in the U.S. and Canada have al­ready suc­cumbed, and the toll may even­tu­ally reach more than 8 bil­lion, the In­ter­na­tional Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture said Thurs­day.

Ash trees are a ma­jor part of east­ern forests and ur­ban streets, pro­vid­ing yel­low and pur­plish leaves to the bounty of fall colors. Their tim­ber is used for mak­ing fur­ni­ture and sports equip­ment like base­ball bats and hockey sticks.

The ram­page of the emer­ald ash borer is traced to the late 1990s, when it ar­rived from Asia in wood used in ship­ping pal­lets that showed up in Michi­gan. Asian trees have evolved de­fenses against the in­sect, but the new North Amer­i­can home pre­sented it with vul­ner­a­ble trees and no nat­u­ral preda­tors.

Dan Herms, an en­to­mol­o­gist at Ohio State Univer­sity who stud­ies the ash borer, called it “the most dev­as­tat­ing in­sect ever to in­vade North Amer­i­can forests.”

Herms said he’s not sure the ash species will lit­er­ally dis­ap­pear.

But he said they could be­come “func­tion­ally ex­tinct,” with pop­u­la­tions too small to play a sig­nif­i­cant role in the en­vi­ron­ment for ben­e­fits like pro­vid­ing shel­ter and fil­ter­ing wa­ter.

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