As a conservation policy advocate, Faith Campbell has specialized in invasive species issues for 25 years. Faith holds a Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.
We Americans love our trees – whether they are in our yards, in nearby parks, or in the wilderness.
Unfortunately, many of our iconic trees are threatened by non-native insects and diseases that have been accidentally brought to America. Dozens of tree-killing pests have entered the U.S. as unintended hitchhikers on imported plants or décor items or in the crates and pallets that package a wide range of goods.
Trees under threat from these non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases include the maples, elms, ash, and oaks that shade our homes and parks and provide habitat to birds, squirrels, and other wildlife. One of the most damaging of the insects is the Asian longhorned beetle (ALB), a large, shiny, black and white beetle from Asia. The Asian longhorned beetle attacks dozens of species of trees belonging to 15 plant families, most often maples, elms, and willows.
At greatest risk are the Northern hardwood forests that reach from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes and beyond – approximately 48 million acres in the United States plus the majority of Canada’s hardwood forests.
Also at risk are shade trees along city streets and in our backyards all across the country. Nationwide, the ALB could kill a third of urban trees, which have a compensatory value of $669 billion. In some cities, two-thirds of the trees would be killed if the Asian longhorned beetle became established.
The ALB has been introduced to North America several times over the last 20 years because larvae can live in wooden crates and pallets. Regulations put in place in 1998 are helping prevent this from happening again, but beetles that snuck in before that have caused seven known North American outbreaks: New York City, Chicago, New Jersey (2 separate outbreaks), Massachusetts, Ohio, Toronto. Every one of these outbreaks was detected first by homeowners who noticed that trees in their neighborhood looked poor.
When an Asian longhorned beetle outbreak is detected, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) starts applying a program aimed at eradicating the beetle. Eradication is necessary because any beetle infestation will spread and – eventually – kill millions of trees across North America. So far, the beetle has been successfully eliminated in many sites – those in Chicago, New Jersey, several parts of New York City and on Long Island (Islip, NY) and Toronto.
To see how one community responded to the threat from the Asian longhorned beetle, view the video “Lurking in the Trees.”
What Can You Do?
- Don’t move firewood. Larvae of the Asian longhorned beetle or other tree-killing pests can be deep inside the wood. When the wood is transported to a new location, mature beetles can emerge and start new infestations. Please – use only local or heat treated firewood when you go camping or traveling. Visit dontmovefirewood.org
- Urge your friends, your coworkers, and your family not to move firewood. Explain that it can carry invasive insects that will emerge and ruin their favorite forests.
- Educate yourself on how to spot the symptoms of pest infestations. When everyone is on the lookout, we can detect infestations earlier – when it is easier to minimize the damage and control the infestation.
- Make looking for pests and tree damage part of your regular activities, like taking walks around the neighborhood or visiting playgrounds and parks. August is a good time to look for the Asian longhorned beetle. It is a large insect – an inch or more long; shiny black with white spots. But often you won’t see the beetle itself, since it might be high in the leaves of the tree. Look for tell-tale symptoms: the best are the dime-sized holes in the branches or trunk – out of which adult beetles emerge. Other signs include shallow pits in the bark chewed by female beetle in which they lay their eggs; and sawdust collecting in branch crotches or on the ground at the base of the tree. To see training videos about detecting Asian longhorned beetles or other tree-killing pests, visit HealtyTreesHealthyCities.org.
- And finally, be sure to take photos and report anything you find to your state agricultural, natural resources, or forestry agency.
[Image: Maple trees on campus of a community college in Worcester, MA – before they were removed in ALB eradication. Image Source: The Nature Conservancy]