As outdoors enthusiasts and cabin-fever escapees head for the mountains and forests for recreation or camping this season, forestry officials are warning people to take special care when it comes to firewood and timber products because of a federal quarantine issued for the emerald ash borer, a destructive tree-killing beetle plaguing Tennessee and much of the South.
Tennessee agriculture officials say Hickman and Dickson counties have joined 63 other counties under state and federal quarantine for the emerald ash borer. All counties in Tennessee east of those two are in the quarantine zone, and all Georgia counties are under quarantine.
"Firewood is especially troublesome to spreading [emerald ash borers]," state forester David Arnold said. "We ask that people don't move firewood since [emerald ash borer] larvae can survive hidden in the bark. Outdoor enthusiasts hauling firewood unknowingly give the pest a free ride to establish new infestations at their destination."
The quarantine prohibits the movement outside a county of firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber, and other material that can spread the beetle, according to officials.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY GUIDELINES
Residents are asked to report any symptomatic ash trees to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and follow these guidelines:
*Don’t transport firewood, even within the state.
*Use firewood from local sources near where you’re going to burn it or purchase certified heat-treated firewood.
*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 an emerald ash borer infestation, visit the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s website or call the department’s Plant Certification Office at 615-837-5137.
Source: Tennessee Department of Agriculture
Signs of the beetle include a thin canopy or yellow foliage on the tree, small holes through the bark of the tree or shoots growing from roots or a tree trunk, officials said Friday in a statement on the two added counties. Officials estimate there are five million ash trees on urban land and another 261 million ash trees on Tennessee timberland, with a combined value of about $11 billion.
Chattanooga city forester Pete Stewart said the insect is known to wipe out a municipal population of ash trees in eight to 10 years.
"We're getting towards the end of that now," Stewart said of Chattanooga's emerald ash borer infestation that started in 2012 and 2013. Ash trees make up only a fraction of Chattanooga's tree species.
Some property owners and the city have treated trees for the insect, which he says "is the worst-case scenario for forest management," Stewart said. "It's been able in 20 years to cover most of the eastern U.S. It's wiping out a whole genus of trees, and we have not been able to even slow it down with quarantine or other treatments."
Former city forester Gene Hyde, who retired Jan. 31, said he is protecting his own ash tree with readily available treatment.
"I've got a fairly good size ash tree in my yard, and I've been treating it this year with a product I bought from Lowe's or Home Depot or somewhere like that," Hyde said. "And I wouldn't wait."
Hyde said that's because the emerald ash borer starts attacking trees mid-canopy and then works its way down. By the time the tree damage is at eye level to a human, "it's close to being too late," he said.
"Individual trees can be treated effectively, if you do it regularly," Stewart said, noting the longest-lasting chemical ingredient to look for is emamectin benzoate. He said other treatments are also effective, if not as long lasting.
Chattanooga's neighbor, Marion County, was added in 2016 to the growing list of quarantine counties when the bug tallied its 48th Tennessee county as the infestation marched west.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the invasive beetle was first found in the U.S. in Southeast Michigan in 2002. Federal officials estimate the beetle had been in the U.S. since the 1990s based on the size of the infestation, probably arriving hidden in wood packing material used to ship consumer goods.
The beetle lays its eggs in the cracks of ash trees. When they hatch, the larvae burrow into the tree, creating S-shaped galleries. Larvae pupate and start to emerge as adults in the spring, leaving a D-shaped exit hole. The adults remain active during the day until the end of summer, living about three weeks, according to the USDA. The USDA has now detected the insect in 35 states and the District of Columbia, and it is likely there are additional, undetected infestations.
Federal and local officials admit quarantines have not stopped the spread, and the federal agency is proposing lifting the domestic quarantine for the insect to "instead focus on developing and deploying biological control to lessen and control infestations," federal officials said in a statement on the bug battle.
Until then, quarantines remain in place.
Contact Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1.
Insects that stow away undetected on firewood include the emerald ash borer, hemlock woolly adelgid, gypsy moths, the Asian longhorned beetle and others. These insects feed on ash, black walnut, hemlock, oak and maple trees, which disrupts the trees’ ability to process water and nutrients. All have already killed tens of millions of trees in North America. Infested trees soon die, which hurts habitat for wildlife, creates a greater risk for wildfires, reduces timber values and hurts some of the state’s most beautiful places. Insects can hide or lay eggs in firewood and spread widely if introduced into a park. Heat-treated firewood, safe for camping and cooking, eliminates this danger by killing pests during the drying process.
Source: Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation