NASHVILLE -- The emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that destroys ash trees, has been found in Chattanooga, putting Hamilton County under a state and federal quarantine on many ash products leaving the county.
Firewood from ash trees, ash nursery stock, ash timber and other items such as packing material or moving pallets that can help spread the destructive green Asian pest are affected.
The discovery was made by Chattanooga's urban forester, Gene Hyde, utilizing U.S. Department of Agriculture tree traps provided through the state's Department of Agriculture.
Federal officials now have confirmed the traps showed the infestation.
"They found just one borer," said Gray Haun, the state's plant certification administrator.
Efforts to reach Hyde were unsuccessful Monday. Haun said the city forester found about a dozen damaged trees in a park near railroad lines in the city, indicating more are on the loose.
Infestations have been found in 19 states, including Tennessee where 17 counties have previously been put under quarantine in recent years since the emerald ash borer first showed up in Michigan about 20 years ago.
The adult beetles eat ash foliage but cause little damage, said Haun and Steve Powell, the state's entomologist. The real problem is larvae, the immature stage, which feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients.
"While it's not possible to say with absolute confidence at this time where the origin of the infestation began in Chattanooga, detection surveys indicate it is located near a rail hub," Haun said. "EAB travels on firewood and unprocessed ash materials, so it's likely wood products already infested with the insect arrived near that vicinity."
The exotic beetle was first discovered in Tennessee in 2010 at a truck stop along Interstate 40 in Knox County.
Haun said he thinks it just was a matter of time for the beetle to make it to Hamilton County not only because of natural migration but through the beetles hitching rides on ash products being transported via railroad or other means.
Hamilton County appears to be the furthest south the emerald ash borer officially has come in the United States.
Haun thanked Hyde for his "hard work ... put into helping TDA find this infestation. We hope other cities around the state will follow Gene's lead and be vigilant about helping to slow down the environmental and economic damage this pest can cause."
The beetles can kill an ash tree within three years. Adults are dark green and about a half inch long. State officials estimate some 5 million ash trees in Tennessee are potentially at risk with a value of about $2 billion.
State officials say the quarantine isn't absolute. For example, ash lumber completely shorn of its bark and just below can be transported.
Officials say residents should follow these recommendations:
• Leave firewood at home and don't transport it, even within the state.
• When camping outside Hamilton County, use firewood from local sources near where you're going to burn it, or purchase firewood that is certified to be free of pests (it will say so on the label included with the packaging).
• If you have moved firewood, burn all of it before leaving your campsite.
• Watch for signs of infestation in your ash trees.
If you suspect your ash tree could be infested with the emerald ash borer, visit www.tn.gov/agriculture/eab for a symptoms checklist and report form or call the state Agriculture Department's Regulatory Services Division at 1-800-628-2631.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.