Officials are urging residents to be on the lookout for signs of emerald ash borers, an invasive beetle that can kill ash trees.
Evidence of the emerald ash borers first turned up in North Carolina several weeks ago in Granville County. State and county officials spotted signs of them under the bark of ash trees and also found adult specimens.
So far, the metallic green beetles have been discovered only in Granville, Person and Vance counties. The state’s agriculture commissioner has issued a quarantine for firewood and other parts of ash trees in those counties to help slow the infestation’s spread. A federal quarantine is expected as well.
The emerald ash borer, a species native to parts of Asia, first was found in the United States in 2002 near Detroit and has spread to 20 central and eastern states. It has a presence in both Tennessee and Virginia, so the discovery in N.C. was not unexpected.
“We’ve definitely been on the lookout for it. And hoping it would take longer,” said Jason Moan, a forest health specialist with the state’s Forest Service.
The beetles lay their eggs on the bark of ash trees. When the larvae hatch, they bore into the tree and feed on its transportation tissue, disrupting the flow of nutrients and water through the tree, according to the N.C. Forest Service. This causes girdling, the removal of a strip of bark from around a tree, which then leads to its death.
Signs of an infestation include thinning at the top of a tree’s crown and the presence of small, D-shaped exit holes from the adult beetles. A tree’s death typically takes five years but can happen in as few as two, the N.C. Forest Service said.
“It’s not something we didn’t expect, but we’re still disappointed that we have to deal with it,” said Phil Wilson, plant pest administrator for the N.C. Department of Agriculture.
In North Carolina, the areas that could be most affected are the Piedmont and the western part of state, which are heavily populated with ash trees.
Ash wood is valued for its strength and elasticity and is often used for baseball bats, bows, tool handles and other products that require durability and resilience. Green ash is planted widely as a landscape tree in urban areas and is a valuable native component of wetland areas. Ash foliage and seeds are fed upon by numerous animals as well as butterfly and moth caterpillars.
Little can be done to protect or save ash trees in the forest. The best option for most ash trees is to cut down dead and dying ones and chip, burn or bury the wood on the site. That reduces the chance of other trees being attacked.
“We found that as it moves through these other states, there’s not a way to eradicate it,” Wilson said. “By using a quarantine – controlling the movement of ash products – we’re trying to slow it down.”
Wendi Hartup, a Forsyth County extension agent, said the beetles can travel on average about 5 miles a year. She agreed the best strategy is to try to slow the spread of the bug, which has no natural predators.
“We’re concerned and just have to keep monitoring the situation,” she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.