Bug Takes Going Green Too Far On Ash Trees

Just as I reported way back in August of 2010, that it looked like we had made it through the summer without the usual “Lost In Space” warning from a robot waving his arms and demanding “danger Will Robinson,” out of the Tennessee tree scapes comes the report that a bug that has sent terror throughout the Northeast is now making its way into our beautiful urban trees in counties around Tennessee. The ash trees located in our state’s forests and homeowners’ yards are in the sights of a beetle all decked out in emerald green resembling something from a leftover St. Patty’s Day party that went totally wrong. The emerald ash borer is about as destructive a bug as it gets and it has made a major mark up North. And just like General Sherman did many years ago during the War of Northern Aggression, it has marched on our woodlands already in 21 Tennessee counties.  

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture recently made the announcement that the emerald ash borer (EAB) has also been detected in Jackson and Scott counties. During the middle of July in 2010 at a truck stop in Knox County near the Loudon County line, the first detection of the insect in the state was reported. Since then, in addition to Knox, eighteen other counties in Tennessee including Anderson, Blount, Campbell, Claiborne, Cocke, Grainger, Greene, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Loudon, Monroe, Roane, Sevier, Smith, and Union counties are under state and federal quarantines. Earlier this summer, Hamilton County was placed under the quarantine when the EAB was found in trees near a rail hub in Chattanooga, so reports TDA. Due to the finds of EAB in Jackson and Scott counties a quarantine is now in place. The EAB quarantine prohibits the movement of firewood, ash nursery stock, ash timber and other material that can spread EAB. With the new discovery, citizens can expect expanded surveys and should report any symptomatic ash trees to TDA.  

The good news is that the emerald ash beetle attacks only ash trees. The bug that takes living green to the wrong level, is thought to have been introduced into the Detroit, Mich. area 15 to 20 years ago on wood packing material from Asia. Guess that is another reason to try to buy your pallets locally. Since then, it also has been found also in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

It takes the beetles around three years to kill an ash tree once they infest a tree. The department describes the beetles as dark green, one-half inch in length and one-eighth inch wide, and fly only from April until September, depending on the climate of the area. In Tennessee, most EAB adults would fly in May and June. They report that the larvae spend the rest of the year beneath the bark of ash trees. When they emerge as adults, they leave D-shaped holes in the bark about one-eighth inch wide.

If you have seen a purple three-sided object that resembled a box kite in trees the last few months, that was a part of the surveillance program by state and federal agencies looking for the EAB. The purple traps were coated with an adhesive that captured the insects when they landed. The color is thought to be attractive to EAB, and is relatively easy for humans to spot among the foliage. Who would have ever thought strange green bugs like purple? But it seems to be working.

The ash tree is very important to our state and this insect could have a major impact on not only our forest, but to trees located within our cities. The Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry estimates that 10 million urban ash trees in Tennessee are potentially at risk from the insect. They say the risk represents an estimated value loss of $2 billion. There are an estimated 261 million ash trees on Tennessee public and private timberland potentially valued as high as $9 billion.

Individuals can help by not transporting firewood, even within Tennessee. With a lot of Tennesseans now enjoying camping, it is important they buy their campsite wood from a local source. Above all, don’t transport or buy firewood from outside the state. And don’t bring wood home with you once your camping vacation is over.  

Since this green bug of terror has reached our state we all need to keep an eye on our own ash trees for signs of infestations. If you see anything suspicious, you can visit www.TN.gov/agriculture/eab for an online symptoms’ checklist and report form or call the TDA’s Regulatory Services Division at 1-800-628-2631.

We can stop this bug only with the help of everyone. Let’s keep Tennessee green with trees, not emerald ash beetles.



– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at pread@tfbf.com