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:
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.