Budget Cuts to Fuel Ash Borer’s Spread?

  • When an emerald ash borer has infected a tree, white-colored larvae can be found under the bark. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Department of Agriculture)

U.S. senators are asking the Department of Agriculture for emergency funding to help control the spread of the emerald ash borer. The burrowing tiny insect has already killed millions of ash trees. The emergency funding request comes as Congress has severely cut federal funding for the program. That’s forced states to change the way they fight the spread of the beetle. The GLRC’s Mike Thompson reports because of the federal budget cuts and a lack of state funding, experts fear the infestations could spread:

Transcript

US senators are asking the Department of Agriculture for emergency
funding to help control the spread of the emerald ash borer. The
burrowing tiny insect has already killed millions of ash trees. The
emergency funding request comes as Congress has severely cut federal
funding for the program. That’s forced states to change the way they
fight the spread of the beetle. The GLRC’s Mike Thompson reports
because of the federal budget cuts and a lack of state funding, experts
fear the infestations could spread:


(Sound of chainsaw and worker)


In 2002 the emerald ash borer was first discovered in southeastern
Michigan. Soon after that federal and state officials determined the
chainsaw was the best way to fight it.


(Sound of tree falling)


Since the tiny beetle arrived, officials estimate the insect has killed – on
its own – more than 15 million trees in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, and the
infestations keep spreading.


There is no known natural predator for the ash borer; no known
pesticide. The experts believe the only way to stop it is to destroy it by
cutting all ash trees within half a mile of a known infestation.


Dan Herms is an entomologist at Ohio State University. He serves on the
ash borer science advisory panel. He says the beetle threatens all of
North America’s 8 billion ash trees.


“If the spread of the insect can’t be contained to Michigan, it will
continue to spread to Ohio and throughout the Eastern United States,
killing all the ash trees. Essentially it’s going to do to ash what
Dutch elm disease did to elm and what chestnut blight did to chestnut.”


Over the past two years the three infested states have cut down
hundreds of thousands of ash trees to stop the spread, but cutting was the
preferred method when the federal government was picking up the tab.


In 2004, the federal government allocated some 41 million dollars for
protecting and cutting down ash trees. That funding slipped to 27
million dollars last year. In 2006 the federal government ash borer
funding has dropped to 8 million dollars – just one-fifth of what it was
two years ago.


Getting at the reasons for the budget cut is difficult. State agriculture
officials defer to federal agriculture officials who defer to Congress.


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Ash Borer Program coordinator
Craig Kellogg theorizes the war in Iraq and Hurricane Katrina forced
lawmakers to cut funds.


“We can always speculate between all the other programs that are going on at
USDA, the cost of war, the cost of the hurricanes and the clean-ups and
all that good stuff, but we are not at the level that we were given the full
reason why we were cut.”


So with little federal money, most of the pre-emptive cutting of ash trees
has stopped. OSU entomologist Dan Herms says he’s concerned.


“It worries me extremely because if the funding is not restored such to
allow at least the opportunity to stop the spread of the insect in northwest
Ohio it will spread throughout the eastern United States, and it will cost
hundreds of billions of dollars in damage.”


The USDA and the states have shifted focus. States will use the federal
funding they receive to monitor the spread of the insect, enforce
quarantines and educate the public. Ohio will cut trees only if they find
new infestations away from the northwest part of the state.


But if the threat is so great to Ash trees, why won’t the states spend their
own money to stop the spread of the emerald ash borer?


We asked Ohio Agriculture Department spokeswoman Melissa Brewer.


“Well, you know, the state has stepped up to the plate as far as having in kind services
and taking those programs and running with them. You know, as far as how much
money can be contributed and that kind of thing… I don’t know who to even direct you on that.”


Officials from the different states say with current state budget pressures,
it’s difficult to find the money to cut down ash trees, and now that
federal money has dried up, Indiana scientists say they’re not sure
cutting trees worked.


State officials and scientists say the emerald ash borer is a national
problem and it should be the federal government’s responsibility to pay
the protection costs.


For the GLRC, I’m Mike Thompson.

Related Links

State Scales Back Ash Borer Fight

A state has abandoned its efforts to stop the spread of a tree-killing beetle because of the cost. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert
reports:

Transcript

A state has abandoned its efforts to stop the spread of a tree-killing beetle
because of the cost. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert
reports:


The emerald ash borer has been spreading in the upper Midwest…
killing millions of ash trees along the way. Since it was first discovered
in northern Indiana two years ago… more than 100-thousand ash trees
have died in that state.


The infestations are hard to find… and state officials say cutting down
trees hasn’t been enough to stop the beetle. Now, the state’s Department
of Natural Resources has decided to stop cutting down trees, and instead,
just monitor the infestation.


State entomologist Bob Walz says he hopes technology will one day
reverse things.


“It’s our hope in the next several years that we’ll have a better tool to
conduct surveys and be able to better limit where emerald ash borer is
found, but at the present time we just don’t have a good tool and
therefore, we’re always playing catch up.”


State officials say some of the blame can be placed on those who ignore
warnings… and take firewood from infected areas.


For the GLRC, I’m Jeff Bossert.

Related Links

Beetle Threatens Anishinabe’s Ash Trees

  • Emerald Ash borer is a type of beetle that is threatening black ash trees. (Photo courtesy of USFS)

American Indians have been making baskets from the wood
of black ash trees for hundreds of years. Now, they see that tradition threatened by a beetle. The emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash trees in Lower Michigan over the past few years, and Indian basket makers are preparing for the day when their grandchildren may no longer find black ash. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bob Allen
reports:

Transcript

American Indians have been making baskets from the wood of black ash trees
for hundreds of years. Now, they see that tradition threatened by a beetle. The
emerald ash borer has killed millions of ash trees in Lower Michigan over the
past few years, and Indian basket makers are preparing for the day when their
grandchildren may no longer find black ash. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Bob Allen reports:


(Sound of museum)


The Anishinabe believe the black ash tree is a gift to their people, and they say
its carried them through many hard times. The story of the baskets is part of a
display in the Ziibiwing Center at the Saginaw Chippewa Reservation in
central Michigan.


Judy Pamp is assistant director of the Center, and she remembers how
important baskets were when she was growing up.


“If we ate it was because there were baskets to sell or trade, and it went from
that being the thing that sustained us to where now it’s more of a an art and a rare art,
and that you do in limited quantities.”


Pamp comes from a long line of basket makers, and she’d like to pass on the
skills to her granddaughter, but she says the baskets aren’t the most
important thing… rather it’s a sense of connection among the generations.


“You know the whole family pulling together, the whole community pulling
together to help one another out… that everybody was important and
everybody had their role.”


Some family members may be good at one part of the basket making, and
there’s plenty of work to divvy up. First, there’s going into a swamp to find a
black ash tree, cut it down and haul it out.


(Sound of pounding)


Then, there’s peeling off the bark, and pounding the wood into strips, called
splints, for baskets. All that can take 25 hours of hand labor. Then, it’s
another 6 or 8 hours to weave a basket. Without the trees, basket makers worry
they may lose that closeness of working together.


The emerald ash borer isn’t on tribal lands yet, but it’s in
two neighboring counties. Scientists say it’s only a matter of time before the
beetle invades the reservation and wipes out the ash tree. The invasive pest got
to the U.S. in cargo shipped from Asia. Despite quarantines the bug continues to
spread because people move infested firewood, timber or landscape trees.


Deb McCullough is an entomologist at Michigan State University. She
concedes ash trees in Lower Michigan are goners.


“Took me a while to get my mind around that. You know we’re going to see
somewhere probably in the neighborhood of four hundred million ash trees in the forests
of lower Michigan that eventually are going to succumb to emerald ash borer
unless something really amazing happens in the next few years.”


McCullough says they’re looking for a way to help trees resist the insect, or a
predator to keep it in check, but it might be years before a solution is found.
So, the tribes are looking at their own ways to deal with the ash borer.


(Sound of splint pulling)


One idea is to harvest a whole bunch of black ash splints for baskets and freeze
them to use later. That would keep basket making going for a while.


(Sound of basket maker)


Another plan is to collect and save seeds from black ash trees.


Basket maker Renee Dillard says someday maybe trees can be replanted from
seed, but she says that means forty or fifty years before any wood is
harvestable, and she doesn’t think she’ll be around then to teach her
grandchildren how to choose the right tree and pound out the splints.


(Sound of pounding)


“As a people, we’re pretty resilient and we can adapt to change. It’s just that we’re
losing an important part of that whole black ash process, and I don’t want my great
grandchildren to just make baskets. They need to understand the whole process because
it’s done carefully and prayerfully.”


Dillard follows the old ways. She lays down tobacco as an offering of thanks for the tree,
and she believes this calls her ancestors to witness her use of the gift.


The Anishinabe don’t know why the emerald ash borer is taking their trees at
this time, but their tradition teaches for every hardship there will be an answer
and something to balance the loss.


For the GLRC, I’m Bob Allen.

Related Links

Defending Against Ash Borer

The Emerald Ash Borer is being found in new places. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert reports officials are emphasizing different way to stop the small metallic-green bug:

Transcript

The Emerald Ash Borer is being found in new places. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jeff Bossert reports officials are emphasizing a different way to stop the small metallic-green bug:


The emerald ash borer is killing ash trees throughout much of Michigan, and it’s spreading. It’s been discovered in parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario.


Michigan State University entomologist David Smitley suggests homeowners work to stop the spread of the insect by treating the ash tree while they’re still healthy.


“That’s really critical. You need to start with a healthy tree, and that’s why we’re trying to get the word out.”


Smitley says homeowners in Michigan should consider applying insecticides
this fall and every subsequent spring, but University of Illinois
entomologist James Appleby says that’s not enough. That’s because too many don’t know about the emerald ash borer, and will fall back on spraying when it’s too late.


“I hate to get that kind of publicity out. I think the main thing
here is that we just be aware that we not bring any firewood from Michigan
into Illinois or Indiana or any other state.”


Appleby says a recent survey in Michigan revealed fifty percent of those
questioned had never heard of the emerald ash borer.


For the GLRC, I’m Jeff Bossert.

Related Links

Invasive Insect Laying Waste to Area Trees

Scientists are working to control a new non-native beetle that’s destroying hundreds of thousands of ash trees in the Midwest. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:

Transcript

Scientists are working to control a new non-native beetle that’s destroying hundreds of
thousands of ash trees in the Great Lakes region. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Erin Toner reports:


The Emerald Ash Borer is native to Asia, and probably made its way to the United States
through wood packing materials. Therese Poland is an entomologist with the
USDA. She says so far, the beetles have destroyed 100 thousand ash trees in southeastern
Michigan and southern Ontario.


“We think it’s been here for at least five years and even with some of the other exotic
beetles that have been discovered in recent years, when they were first discovered they
weren’t as widespread as this.”


Poland says there’s a quarantine over the infested areas to keep the beetles from moving
to new areas. Officials are inspecting nurseries to make sure they’re not selling infested
trees. They’re also checking whether tree care companies are disposing of trees properly.
But officials admit they probably won’t be able to stop people who unknowingly transport
infested firewood or yard waste.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.