The globalization bug

Ohio's landscape has started undergoing a dramatic change in recent years -- a change which could, within the next several years, al
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010


Ohio's landscape has started undergoing a dramatic change in recent years -- a change which could, within the next several years, alter the state's vistas drastically.

It is a blight which was first detected in Michigan in June 2002 and one which, it doesn't appear, will be corrected anytime soon. It can be traced to China, to eastern Russia, Mongolia, Taiwan, Japan and Korea.

"Ah yes," some might say. "Michigan, Ohio -- it's got to be jobs or the loss of jobs anyway. Altered landscapes? What else could it be other than jobs? Factories are closing; people are unemployed; banks are foreclosing on homes; factory towns are becoming ghost towns. And, it's all because corporate American is shifting its manufacturing jobs to overseas facilities and foreign goods are flooding our markets."

But, in this case, the foreign agent is biological, not economic.

The change is because of the Emerald Ash Borer, or the EAB as it is now commonly referred to by insect experts. The EAB is an exotic, invasive wood boring insect that kills native North American ash trees.

These bugs, the experts say, were transported to the U.S. on ash crating or pallets on which goods destined for assembly or sale here are stored for transport. Native to eastern Russia, northeastern China, Mongolia, Taiwan, Japan and Korea where EABs feed on several species of ash there, experts suspect the crating was infested with the insects and once here found North American ashes as much to their liking as those in their homeland. In fact, there isn't an ash tree (expect the Mountain Ash, which isn't the same species) these bugs don't like.

Yeah, that's right, we're talking about a bug. In its adult stage the EAB is a metallic green beetle. Actually, its color is quite striking when reflected by the sun. But the rub is the larvae stage, or the second stage in the life of this bug. The larvae are flatheaded borers that worm their way into ash trees and feed on the sap and tissues of the ash trees. Ultimately the feeding causes the tree to die.

So, what's the big deal? some might say.

It is really quite simple and there's irony in the telling.

These bugs, in their larvae stage have been responsible for the destruction of ash trees all over Michigan and in 26 counties (including Erie County) in Ohio. They have caused tens of millions of dollars in damage to Michigan's landscapes, woodlots and urban forests alone, and now in Ohio counties where the infestations have been identified all ash trees are quarantined (they cannot be moved across county lines and transporting firewood is prohibited). According to The Ohio State University, one in every 10 trees in the state is an ash tree which means that without containment the destruction will be devastating.

The fact that the Emerald Ash Borer "slipped" into the country should raise Ohioans' hackles. Ohio State expert Amy Stone says that it is suspected EABs came into the country long before anyone noticed.

She said the beetle spreads only a half a mile a year, so the adult dispersal of the beetles and the destruction they have brought with them took more than a decade to be detected. In fact it was not until another type of beetle, the Asian Long Horned Beetle, was discovered in Chicago that any government action was taken and by that time it was too late for the ash trees.

She said it is surmised the EAB was brought into the country on pallets at the same time the long horned beetle was introduced. And, it was only then, in 1992, that regulations to eliminate insect infestations by heat treating pallets produced in Asian countries, were enacted by the federal government.

Unfortunately the action was "a day late and a dollar short" and the dollar is being felt by local governments and residents who have ash trees on their property. To save an ash tree requires annual insecticide treatment. The cost to remove those that have been invaded by the EAB larvae is expensive. OSU reports that municipalities have been overwhelmed with the cost for removal of those trees on public property and private property owners are feeling the cost effect as well.

The average citizen would think there would be some kind of financial relief. But there is not. Stone said it took so long to discover the EAB invasion that it was too late to trace it back to those corporations and specific countries responsible.

The politics and the side effects of a global economy are a two-edged sword. There is a dark side beyond the devastating loss of American jobs to overseas manufacturers. The threat of the destruction of a whole species of trees is pitiful.

What's next?