Bug threatens trees existence: Cornell researchers

Photo Credit: Michigan State University - AP

In this must read article from the New York Times science section, Cornell researchers have discovered and are monitoring a bug that could threaten an entire species of New York trees. That bug is the emerald ash borer. Click on the link for more details on the bug and click on the slideshow above for pictures of the insect and the damage to look for on ash trees.

The main reason why this small bug is so toxic to ash trees is that this bug was never in New York State prior to June 2009 where it was found in Cattaragus county. In June 2010, it was discovered in Ulster and Greene Counties in the Catskills, including in the Catskill Forest Preserve. In addition, it was never in the United States until 2002. It is native to China. According to the article, it travelled to this country perhaps arriving in packing material with shipments to auto plants. Since then it has spread across the upper Midwest and into Canada, killing tens of millions of ash trees. Since this insect is new to the area, it has no natural enemies to fight. Therefore, the insect is free to run rampant and essentially do as it pleases. Unfortunately for the New York ash tree, it means decimation and possible extinction. The larvae of the ash borer burrow into the tree bark, killing the tree in one to three years. There is no known systemic way to stop its spread or to save infested trees.

Cornell entomologists say the bug, smaller than a penny, has the potential to kill off the 900 million ash trees in New York and the 7 billion ash trees in North America, driving the ash to extinction in a way that would surpass the damage that all but killed off the American chestnut and the elm.

I TMve been a forest entomologist for 30 years, and I had no idea anything as bad as this could ever happen, Mark C. Whitmore, an expert on the ash borer at Cornell, said. The only worse thing would be the spread of the Asian longhorn beetle.

The economic value alone is compelling. Ash trees make up 7 percent of the trees in New York State and about 10 percent of the hardwoods. Losing the ash trees, which are strong and elastic, and are used for, among other things, bows, tool handles and baseball bats, would have enormous economic costs. Beyond industrial and forestry losses, one of the biggest costs would be to individuals and municipalities that would have to cut down brittle, dead trees by the millions to avoid the danger of falling, damaged limbs.

The cost to the health and diversity of the forests and ecosystems is hard to measure but would likely alter our local nature. Marilyn Wyman of the Cornell Cooperative Extension makes the compelling statement, You can TMt continue to take pieces out of the system and not have something happen.

For more on this story, click here.

Do you have ash tree damage, possibly from the emerald ash borer? Do you know someone who has? If so, let me know by commenting on this web story at the bottom of this web page. E-mail us a picture at and

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