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Ash borer invades Great Smoky Mountains NP backcountry

Invasive insect pest spreading out of the Midwest

A close up of an Emerald Ash Borer insect and the feeding tunnels the insects create under ash bark. Insect Photo: David Cappaert, Michigan State University. Tunnel Photo: NPS Photo

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The destructive emerald ash borer has made its first incursion into the backcountry of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where it could do serious damage to hardwood forests, according to National Park Service biologists.

The ash borer is a non-native species that was introduced from Asia and first discovered in southern Michigan in 2002. In just 10 years, the bugs have spread to 16 states and two Canadian provinces killing tens of millions of ash trees.

The emerald ash borer is a half-inch inch-long metallic green beetle that lays eggs on the bark on all species of ash trees. After hatching, the larvae burrow under the bark, and create feeding tunnels that cut off nutrient and water flow to the tree. The tree can die in three to five years.

Since 2009, officials have been monitoring for the presence of the invasive pest. Front country infestations were confirmed in June 2012 at Sugarlands Visitor Center and at the Greenbrier entrance to the Park.

An off-duty park employee discovered the backcountry infestation on an administrative trail in the Greenbrier area in early November. The employee noticed a pile of bark chips at the base of several ash trees. Signs of woodpecker activity on ash trees is an excellent indicator of an EAB infestation.

Paul Merten, a forest insect specialist from the USDA Forest Service in Asheville, NC, confirmed EAB at the site by looking under ash tree bark for feeding tunnels left by the immature beetle.

“The infestation is well established, probably two years old or older,” Merten said.

Complete eradication of EAB is not currently feasible, but Park Resource Managers are developing a management plan to maintain public safety and protect ash trees where possible. EAB and other tree pests can be transported in firewood. Park regulations prohibit bringing firewood to the Smokies from areas that have been quarantined for EAB or other destructive pests.

More information about emerald ash borer can be found at:
http://www.emeraldashborer.info/ and at
http://www.tn.gov/agriculture/regulatory/eab.shtml

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