I’ve learned so much about insects during my tenure here. Admittedly, I still treat six-legged home invaders to an up-close view of the bottom of my boot, but I can at least acknowledge that most creatures play an important role in nature. (For instance, mosquitoes contribute to S.C. Johnson’s bottom line via repellent; therefore, mosquitoes stimulate the economy. Right? Oh, Econ 101, why were you an 8 a.m. class?)
But there are some bugs that truly are pests, and one little green beetle is changing the North American landscape forever. Unlike another invasive Beatle invasion that resulted in mop tops and rock ‘n’ roll, the emerald ash borer, hailing from Asia, has an insatiable appetite for ash trees, consuming nearly all trees in its wake.
Researchers have traced the beetle’s likely arrival to a contaminated wooden palette shipment that landed in Detroit. From there, the beetle’s devastation has been spreading outward, and its effects are already being felt in the greater Dayton region. A visit to Carriage Hill MetroPark will attest to this. Five Rivers MetroParks is starting the process of removing potentially hazardous trees. Why?
The beetle is a wood-boring insect, meaning it tunnels into trees and lays its eggs. Those eggs hatch into translucent pulp-munching machines; the larvae carve winding “galleries” into the tree’s phloem, which is like the plant’s cardiovascular system, delivering vital nutrients from the ground to the branches. Trees are quite literally “suffocated” once the borer consumes the phloem, and at this point, when the tree is already mostly dead, is when symptoms start to appear. Top branches die first, and lack of water has made them very brittle. It doesn’t take much to bring those branches down, which is why the safest option is to remove the entire tree before it becomes a danger. North American species of ash have no natural defenses against this insect like Asian species, leaving the invasive insects free to enjoy a gluttonous feast.
After a recent survey, it is estimated that ash trees comprise about 30 percent of the canopy of all 15,000 acres of MetroParks. Park services, the conservation staff and education staff have come together to create a comprehensive plan to manage our natural areas in the most effective manner. Chemical treatment options are available, and Five Rivers MetroParks has a list of about 600 trees, which will have to be inoculated every two years for the next 15-20 years. Trees were chosen based on species preservation (like the rare pumpkin ash), and location (because of other structures or surroundings, it is not feasible to remove the tree) among other considerations. Trees in or around public areas, including parking lots, picnic sites, hiking trails and other locations that are not being treated must be removed. This project is a huge undertaking that will cost millions of dollars to the agency, but one that cannot be ignored.
Sounds like a bummer, right? Well, concede that in today’s global economy, these things will happen. It’s not the first time humans’ mobility has disrupted nature (remember Dutch elm disease), and it won’t be the last. A disease affecting conifers already is on the horizon. So what’s a tree hugger to do? Why, get involved in the reforestation project, of course!
MetroParks horticulturalists have been busy this fall collecting seeds and propagating them to grow into seedlings. I can tell you there are row and rows of flats of seedlings and two refrigerators full of nuts right now at Cox Arboretum MetroPark. The first phase of reforestation will be to grow and care for these babies, and here’s where you come in: Sign up to be a Forest Foster Family. These volunteers will “adopt” a flat of seedlings to raise in their own homes for about a year and then take them to a designated MetroPark area to plant. Don’t worry, we’ll give you detailed instruction on care of your future forests. Flats will be prepped for distribution around this coming spring, and by spring of 2012, those healthy little seedlings should be ready for their new MetroPark home. Learn more in the winter issue of ParkWays available now.
If you’re interested in signing up or learning more, contact or volunteer services coordinators Kevin Kepler or Janelle Leonard at (937) 275-PARK (7275). The bug is here, and there’s not much we can do to stop it from consuming our forests, but we can make a difference and increase biodiversity so we will be ready for whatever comes next.