Invasive Bugs Still on the March

  • Adult emerald ash borer (Photo by David Cappaert, Michigan State University, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Agriculture)

The emerald ash borer is still chewing its way through the state’s ash trees.

This is the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.

The emerald ash borer is a very expensive pest. It’s an invasive beetle from Asia that was first discovered eight years ago, near Detroit. It has killed more than 50 million ash trees just in Michigan alone. The beetle has also infested 13 other states and two Canadian provinces, and it has cost the state of Michigan millions of dollars.

That’s your tax money, and you might have also had to pay to have dead trees removed from your own yard.

More information on the invasive bugs

How to identify the bugs and larvae

A related TER story


Deb McCullough is here with me and she’s a professor of forest entomology at Michigan State University.

What’s the prognosis for Michigan’s ash trees?

“We’ve lost a lot and we’re going to lose even more. For example, Lansing and East Lansing – we’re right in the thick of it now, lots of dying trees, trees that died either last year, this year or will be dying in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, Grand Rapids had some infestations get started and they’re seeing a lot more dead and dying trees and it’s kind of rolling from the west to the east out of Grand Rapids. All these pockets that got started by firewood that was transported or infested ash nursery trees back before anybody knew about emerald ash borer. There are pockets of emerald ash borer in places like Traverse City and over by Alpena and Alcona County. We know that there are a number of localized and very spotty kinds of infestations in the Upper Peninsula as well.”

How much success do you believe that scientists like yourself, city managers, other people who are working on this… how much success have you had in slowing the beetle’s spread?

“I don’t know that we’re working really hard on that. I think the funding is pretty limited in terms of slowing the spread of the main infestations. The one area where we are trying some different approaches to slow the rate of the beetle in terms of its population growth and possibly to slow the spread is a pilot project that is underway in the Upper Peninsula to try to use a combination of insecticides and girdled ash trees and some targeted ash removals and harvests and so forth to slow the rate that the population spreads and slow down the progression of ash mortality out of these spots.”

So we’re in camping season now and moving infested firewood is one of the biggest ways we’ve been spreading the beetle. What do we need to know about moving firewood this summer?

“I do a lot of camping and we go fishing and we go hunting and in years past I always took firewood with me and I don’t do it anymore. It’s one of those things where we’re all just going to have to change our behavior because there are many of these outlier spots of emerald ash borer that we know got started from infested ash firewood that people took to an area. They left it. They didn’t burn it. The beetles came out and it only takes a couple of beetles to get a whole new infestation started. ”

“It’s illegal, you’re not allowed to take firewood across the Mackinac Bridge from Lower Michigan into Upper Michigan. You can’t take firewood across the southern border of Michigan. So we’re really asking people to get their firewood locally. A lot of times you can collect it locally or you can buy it from a supplier and just not start any more problems like these.”

Deb McCullough is a forest entomologist at Michigan State University. Thank you so much for talking with us.

“Okay, thank you.”

And that’s The Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.