Garden Variety: Emerald ash borer regulations changing
The emerald ash borer is a destructive insect pest that has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in the U.S. since its introduction into the country. Federal and state regulatory officials attempted to slow it down by regulating movement of ash trees, wood and mulch, but their efforts have failed to stop it. Now, federal officials are removing the quarantine and making new plans in the continued fight to save ash trees. Infested states, including Kansas, are expected to follow suit over the course of the next few years.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services published the rule to remove the federal domestic emerald ash borer quarantine earlier this month, and it will become effective on Jan. 14, 2021.
The decision came after years of continued rapid spread of the insect, lengthy evaluation and consideration and a public comment period.
State quarantines will remain in place until removed by the state regulatory agencies and/or legislatures. States are expected to follow APHIS’ lead, for the same reasons that APHIS chose to remove the quarantine, but the timelines will vary depending on states’ protocols.
The federal emerald ash borer quarantine restricted movement of ash trees, firewood, mulch and other wood products. These items were identified as pathways for accidental movement of the insects. In the early discoveries, the insects were found in pockets hundreds or thousands of miles from each other. That movement could have only been with the aid of humans unsuspectingly carrying the insects in wood or wood products.
Kansas’ emerald ash borer quarantine refers to the federal quarantine and was written with similar language.
Emerald ash borer is the most destructive insect pest the U.S. has seen. It was spotted near Detroit in 2002 and has spread to at least 35 states since then, wiping out every ash tree it can find along the way. It was confirmed in Kansas in 2013 and is known to be in 10 northeast Kansas counties, including Douglas County.
Emerald ash borer is native to Asia and probably arrived in the U.S. on wood packing material. In Asia, natural predators keep the insect in check, and ash trees that grow there have developed some resistance to the pest.
In addition to the quarantine, APHIS has worked to provide public education and increase awareness. It’s also been researching control methods and rearing and releasing other insects that could control the emerald ash borer population. The staff time and funding for quarantine enforcement can now be put toward these options instead.
Much of the education at this point is focused on national campaigns urging people not to move firewood and other wood products. Federal and state parks that allow camping provide education to campers, and many have restrictions on bringing firewood into the park.
In Kansas, the Kansas Forest Service and K-State Research and Extension have held public meetings and worked with cities and counties to develop response plans. Industry groups have also received extensive education on emerald ash borer identification and management.
APHIS is researching three other Asian insects that are parasitoids and target emerald ash borers. Research is promising that the insects could slow the spread of emerald ash borers and possibly protect regrowth of the ash trees in the long-term future.
In Kansas, ash is one component of mixed hardwood forests. It is, however, very common in the urban landscape. The biggest loss is to neighborhoods with large percentages of mature ash trees. Forested areas are experiencing loss, but it is less noticeable. In some regions, native forest lands were almost completely composed of ash trees, making losses that much more devastating.
Firewood specifically may have its own quarantine or set of restrictions at some point in the future. In addition to emerald ash borers, firewood has moved insect pests such as gypsy moths. The best bet with firewood is to buy it from local sources and burn it while insects are overwintering inside the wood. If local firewood is unavailable, look for firewood that has been heat-treated to kill insects.