Thursday, December 07, 2006

Invasives Attack Prince George's County

Maryland has the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), here in my county of Prince George’s. As a county, we were on the border of the discovery of the northern snakehead (Channa argus) in Maryland, and see signs of the advance guard of fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) and the onslaught of kudzu (Pueraria montana var.lobata). In unintentional commemoration as a portal for invasive species, we celebrate as our county tree, the Bradford pear (Pyrus calleryana 'Bradford').

Now, we face the elimination of every ash tree within 12,000 acres of our county in a desperate hope that we can throw back the invader. At risk are some six million ash trees in the Baltimore metropolitan area, a statistic not including Washington and Northern Virginia. So now the county is quarantined. How did this happen?

“The insect was first detected in Maryland in 2003 after a Michigan nurseryman broke quarantine in that state and shipped infested trees into a Prince George’s County nursery. After 3 years of work, officials believed the insect was eradicated from Maryland. In August 2006, the same experts found evidence that the emerald ash borer is still in the county. The quarantine is in place because of the recent detection.” is part of the answer, supplied by the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

Agencies of the State of Maryland walk through the woods and neighborhoods and spray death marks onto any and all ash trees they can find in a rush against the life cycle of the pest. And of course dazed citizens wake to find that thir trees will be cut down at no direct cost to them whether they want it or not, in order that the few may sacrifice to protect the greater good.

In addition, the following goods are included in the quarantine: “…, all hardwood firewood (non-coniferous)• ash (Fraxinus spp.) products including nursery stock, green lumber, and other ash material living, dead, cut, or fallen, including logs, stumps, roots, branches.• uncomposted ash chips and bark larger than one inch in diameter in two dimensions”, and of course all stages of the borer itself.

A positive side of life in Prince George’s County is that we are home to BARC and its systematics programs. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Beltsville, MD confirmed the identification of the emerald ash borer.

An invasive species, exotic and non-native is currently destroying the forests of the mid- west, and Maryland is creating a fire break of sorts to contain and throw back the invader before it cause economic and environmental harm. I have heard some say that what does it matter that we loose one species of a tree, for there are plenty more. But already we have lost the native elm and chestnut, and the native dogwood is under attack from a foreign invader. Because the damage is so large, and fits better in a long term valuation horizon, the public has a hard time understanding the decision that is perceived to be a wanton arbitrary destruction of nature or personal property in their neighborhood. This is a subset of the infamous “not-in-my-backyard thinking.

The tireless defenders of Maryland’s agriculture and natural areas work on to stave off the approaching destruction. A suggestion from the public to use weapons of mass destruction (pesticides) is a non starter given the extent of the problem and the life cycle of the pest. So tree eradication is the best defense. The movement of firewood from campsites to home fires is suspected of being a major contributor to the problem, and checking every car seems highly improbable, so education is the major tool.

Getting the word out early, and responding quickly; these are the new watch-words for invasive species control.

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