Sci­en­tists: Ash tree species pushed to brink of ex­tinc­tion

Yuma Sun - - NEWS -

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.

“The pop­u­la­tions are ex­plod­ing,” said Mur­phy West­wood of the Mor­ton Ar­bore­tum in Lisle, Illi­nois. In­fes­ta­tions have been de­tected in 30 states.

“it’s a very ef­fi­cient killer,” West­wood said. “As the ash borer moves through a for­est, it will com­pletely kill all of the ma­ture ash trees within three or four years.”

She led the sci­en­tific as­sess­ment that re­sulted in clas­si­fy­ing the five species as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered — mean­ing they are fac­ing an ex­tremely high risk of ex­tinc­tion in the wild. The change ap­pears on the IUCN’s Red List, con­sid­ered by sci­en­tists the of­fi­cial index of what an­i­mals and plants are in dan­ger of dis­ap­pear­ing. The species are the green, black, white, pump­kin and blue ash.

A sixth species, the Carolina ash, was put in the less se­ri­ous cat­e­gory of “en­dan­gered” be­cause it might find some refuge from the in­fes­ta­tion in the south­ern part of its range, which in­cludes Florida, Texas and Cuba, West­wood said.

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.” It’s al­ready the most ex­pen­sive be­cause it has killed so many ur­ban trees that had to be re­moved, dis­posed of and re­placed, which has cost bil­lions of dol­lars, he said.

Herms, who was not in­volved in the IUCN project, 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.

WASH­ING­TON — Irma, which flat­tened some Caribbean is­lands and en­veloped nearly all of Florida in its fury, no longer ex­ists. The open At­lantic’s most pow­er­ful hur­ri­cane on record fi­nally sput­tered out as an or­di­nary rain­storm over Ohio and In­di­ana.

Irma’s con­firmed death toll is 61 and still ris­ing, 38 in the Caribbean and 23 in the United States. In the U.S. alone, nearly 7 mil­lion people were told to evac­u­ate, and 13 mil­lion Florid­i­ans were left with­out power in hot steamy weather.

This storm grew so im­mensely pow­er­ful over warmer-than-nor­mal At­lantic wa­ter that it dev­as­tated the first is­lands in its path. Its gar­gan­tuan size — two Hur­ri­cane Andrews could fit inside it — spread so much fear that people all over the Florida penin­sula up­ended their lives to flee.

“This was a large, ex­tremely dan­ger­ous cat­a­strophic hur­ri­cane,” Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter spokesman and me­te­o­rol­o­gist Den­nis Felt­gen said Wed­nes­day, when he de­clared the storm over.

Colorado State Univer­sity hur­ri­cane re­searcher Phil Klotzbach put it sim­pler: “Irma was a beast.”

Irma gen­er­ated as much ac­cu­mu­lated en­ergy in a dozen days as an en­tire six­month hur­ri­cane sea­son would in an av­er­age year, Klotzbach cal­cu­lated.

Just 30 hours after it be­came a trop­i­cal storm on Aug. 30, Irma was a ma­jor Cat­e­gory 3 hur­ri­cane. By Sept. 4 it had in­ten­si­fied into a Cat­e­gory 4, with 130 mph (210 kph) winds, and it wasn’t near done.

It be­came a Cat­e­gory 5 storm the next day with top winds of 185 mph (nearly 300 kph), the high­est ever recorded in the open At­lantic. Only one storm whirled faster — Hur­ri­cane Allen reached 190 mph (305 kph) in 1980 over the nor­mally warm Gulf of Mex­ico — but Irma held its fe­ro­ciously high speeds for 37 hours, a new global record for trop­i­cal cy­clones. It beat Typhoon Haiyan, which also reached 185 mph (nearly 300 kph) be­fore killing more than 6,000 people in the Philip­pines. Irma ul­ti­mately spent 78 hours as a Cat­e­gory 5, the long­est in 85 years for At­lantic hur­ri­canes.

Irma’s en­tire path, from its birth off Africa to its death over the Ohio Val­ley, stayed within the cone of the prob­a­ble track fore­cast by the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter.

Irma claimed its first vic­tim when it was still far off, send­ing a “mon­ster wave” to drown a teen-aged surfer in Bar­ba­dos. Then it hit the Lee­ward Is­lands in full fury, sweep­ing a 2-year-old boy to his death after tear­ing the roof from his home.

Irma bul­lied through much of the Caribbean — An­tigua, St. Martin, St. Barts, An­guilla, the U.S. and Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Turks and Caicos, the Ba­hamas. It nar­rowly skirted Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Do­mini­can Repub­lic. It turned lush trop­i­cal play­grounds into blasted-out land­scapes, lit­tered with splin­tered lum­ber, crum­pled sheet metal and shat­tered lives. In St. Martin, 15 people were killed.

Irma was still a Cat­e­gory 5 when it raked Cuba’s coast, the first hur­ri­cane that size to hit the storm­prone is­land since 1924. At least 10 people died there, de­spite mas­sive evac­u­a­tions. And by mov­ing briefly over land, it may have spared Florida a tougher punch.

More im­por­tantly, the sys­tem slowed, de­lay­ing its turn north and steer­ing its cen­ter over Florida’s west coast, which is less pop­u­lated and less densely de­vel­oped than the east. It also al­lowed dry air and high winds from the south­west to flow into Irma, tak­ing a bite out of the storm and even tear­ing the south­west eye­wall apart for a while.

Irma was more vul­ner­a­ble, but by no means weak. A Cat­e­gory 4 storm with 130 (210 kph) winds when it slammed into Cud­joe Key, it tied for his­tory’s sev­enth strong­est hur­ri­cane to make U.S. land­fall, based on its central pres­sure. With Har­vey’s swamp­ing of Texas, this is the first year two Cat­e­gory 4 storms hit the United States.

The Keys were dev­as­tated. Federal of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that a quar­ter of the homes were de­stroyed, and hardly any es­caped dam­age. Roofs seemed peeled off by can-open­ers; power poles were nowhere to be seen.

Irma was back over wa­ter as it closed in on main­land Florida, weak­en­ing still but spread­ing much wider — to more than 400 miles (640 kilo­me­ters) in girth — whip­ping the en­tire penin­sula with winds of 39 mph (62 kph) or more. It pushed its high­est storm surge, 10 feet (more than 3 me­ters), onto Florida’s south­west­ern coast, while caus­ing some of its worst flood­ing in north­east Florida, Ge­or­gia and South Carolina, far from Irma’s cen­ter.

Irma’s sec­ond U.S. land­fall was on Marco Is­land, near where Wilma hit in 2005. By then, Irma was a still-ma­jor Cat­e­gory 3, with 115 mph (185 kph) winds, but weak­en­ing fast. The worst of its fury some­how missed the Tampa Bay area, where homes were not nearly as flooded as those in far­away Jack­sonville. Irma then sloshed through Ge­or­gia and Alabama as a trop­i­cal storm, blow­ing down tall trees and power lines, be­fore dis­si­pat­ing Tues­day over Ten­nessee and Ohio.


THIS SATEL­LITE IM­AGE taken Thursday, Sep. 7, at 11:15 a.m. EDT, shows the eye of Hur­ri­cane Irma just north of the is­land of His­pan­iola.


THIS UNDATED PHOTO pro­vided by the Mor­ton Ar­bore­tum in September 2012 shows blue ash trees (Frax­i­nus quad­ran­gu­lata).

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