Sarah Volkman is the Communications Coordinator for the Forest Health Protection Program at The Nature Conservancy
Ahh. The smell of fall; crisp leaves and yellow, orange and red hues displayed brightly by the trees that line our streets and cover our mountains. Can you imagine what it would be like if we first lost the gold, the crimson and then… the whole forest?
Invasive forest insects like the emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle have the potential to do just that. So far, dozens of cities in 18 states have found out what the scene looks like minus millions of ash trees. Known for their early season yellow foliage, ash trees are a significant part of the fall color palette and a popular street tree throughout the Great Lakes and Northeastern United States.
In these states, millions of dead and dying ash trees have been removed from streets because of the emerald ash borer, a tiny green invasive insect that kills ash trees. It made its way from Asia to Michigan — where it was first found in infesting trees in 2002 — and now is as far east as Massachusetts, as west as Kansas, and south as Tennessee.
The stories of how invasive species are threatening ash trees in Baltimore, walnut trees in Missouri, and the avocado groves of Florida are featured in a new documentary Trees, Pests & People produced by The Nature Conservancy’s Forest Health Protection Program.
For cities like Baltimore, Maryland, the green menace has meant the loss of more than just autumnal colors. “Street trees are really important for a lot of reasons. You want to make sure you have shade, but it also protects you from the noise,” says Valerie Shane of Baltimore’s Parks & People Foundation, in the documentary.
These destructive pests threaten to destroy fall foliage, tree lined streets, small businesses, and even our beloved guacamole if they are not stopped. Thankfully, there are ways you can help!
Keep Autumn Colorful in Two Easy Steps
Don’t move firewood: Protect trees at your house, cabin, or favorite camping spot from pests. Buy firewood near the location where you will burn it. You may not realize it, but tree-killing insects and diseases can lurk in firewood, and when people move firewood these tree killers can hitchhike hundreds of miles. New infestations destroy forests, property values, and cost huge sums of money to control.
Be a concerned citizen: Observe the trees around you, and keep an eye out for unusual insects and unhealthy trees. You can make a difference by reporting any potentially new or worrisome tree symptoms or pests to an arborist, county extension officer, or other plant health professional. The problem could be harmless — but it also could be a critical find of a new invasive forest pest infestation. Learn more.
[Image: Brilliant, golden foliage colors this autumn view of forest at South Fork Preserve, southwest of Telluride, Colorado. Image source: Lynn McBride]