March 04, 2022

The Beetle that Made Headlines

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For the past few years, TreeUtah and the Utah Department of Agriculture  and Food (UDAF) Insect Program have worked to protect native and naturalized ash trees from the threat of invasives. We spoke recently with Joey Caputo who is a Survey Entomologist at UDAF and he told us the UDAF Insect Program is dedicated to “protecting the social, environmental, and economic integrity of the great state of Utah” from invasive insects and disease. 

An invasive species that has especially made headlines from a federal issued quarantine as early as 2020 is the emerald ash borer (EAB), also known as Agrilus planipennis. The EAB is a green beetle originating from northeast Asia that feeds on ash trees, decimating their tree populations within a few years of the insects becoming in contact with them. There is a high concentration of ash called Fraxinus anomala making it vital to protect them. The beetle was first discovered in Michigan in 2002 through infested nursery stock or firewood, which are the two ways EAB can travel from place to place.

Ash trees are an important piece to Utah’s landscape. The EAB poses a threat because as a whole, ash trees make up 15-20% of urban tree cover in Utah. If the EAB is introduced into Utah, the imminent decimation of ash trees could consequently reduce the aesthetics and other benefits trees provide. Implications of reduced tree cover can be anything from excess heat from the heat island effect, pollution not being removed from the atmosphere, and diminished habitat for important wildlife. Caputo says some ash trees can be saved from the EAB, but not without environmental costs because of ample pesticide use. When using pesticides, effects are not just localized to the areas they are used. The ingestion of toxic pesticide chemicals by birds, mammals, or insects can cause a tip in the precarious balance of an ecosystem. 

While we are an organization who strives to protect the native ash population with UDAF, the steps you can take as an individual are important for prevention of further devastation too. The federal issued quarantine by the USDA ended in 2020, but the UDAF issued guidelines to mitigate the issue via their own R68-11. Quarantine Pertaining to the Emerald Ash Borer and R68-23 Utah Firewood Quarantine.

What is important to note is the native ash trees in the United States are more at risk than ash trees from where the beetle originated. Trees in northeast Asia have had a chance through generations to coexist and adapt and become unaffected by the beetle while ash trees here have not. With this in mind, we asked Caputo what next steps Utahns can take to help mitigate the issue and he broke it down into four simple steps. 

1) Source and support locally chopped wood. Caputo says, “firewood should never be transported across state-lines and firewood harvested within the state shouldn’t be moved more than 50 miles from its origin”.

2) Maintain your yard to be biodiverse because that small ecosystem you have created could be more resilient and less prone to buckling in the future. At TreeUtah we have an extensive list of tree recommendations in place of ash, so make sure to visit our tree guide on our website the next time you plant a tree. 

3) Keep your eyes open for EAB infestation signs. Caputo says to contact UDAF if “small d-shaped exit holes in the bark, a thinning canopy, and leafy shoots growing out of the lower trunk” are visible on an ash tree.

4) Be eager for knowledge and an active participant in your community for spreading word about the EAB. Information you spread is valuable to keeping the EAB from decimating our native ash trees.

Thank you to Joey Caputo for invaluable insight into the emerald ash borer.