- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2003

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — A forest pest responsible for a deadly disease in beech trees has invaded Maryland, state officials said Monday.

The beech-scale insect has infested woodlands in neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania, so it was just a matter of time before it showed up in far Western Maryland, said Robert Rabaglia, forest entomologist with the state Department of Agriculture.

Mr. Rabaglia said he and other Maryland plant scientists were to travel yesterday to the southern tip of Garrett County to check two sites where beech-scale disease was detected in late June and look for other affected areas.

The disease has been spreading slowly across North America since 1890, when the insects were accidentally brought to Nova Scotia from Europe, according to a U.S. Forest Service pamphlet.

The tiny insects feed on the sap of beech trees, causing the thin, smooth bark to crack. The trees are then susceptible to a fungus, Nectria ditissima, which weakens them so much they eventually topple or succumb to other ailments.

“The tree is so weakened, you get other insects and spores moving in that actually kill the tree,” Mr. Rabaglia said.

Although it can take years for an infected tree to die, there is no cure for beech scale and scientists have not been able to control its spread, he said.

“We’re trying to find out where in Maryland it is, but there’s really not going to be too much we can do about it,” he said.

Beeches, characterized by smooth, silvery bark, grow in forests across Maryland and are popular urban shade trees as well, said Jeff Horan, chief of forest resource planning for the Maryland Forest Service, a division of the Department of Natural Resources.

They have little commercial value but provide habitat for tree-dwelling species, he said.

They also produce beech nuts, which are eaten by deer, turkeys, squirrels and chipmunks, Horan said.

“It’s such a beautiful tree in the forest,” Mr. Horan said.

The soft-bodied yellow insect is no larger than the head of a pin. The first sign of infestation is the appearance of a woolly looking wax on the tree bark secreted by the clustered insects, Mr. Rabaglia said.

Beech scale is prevalent across the northeastern United States, with substantial pockets in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia, according to the U.S. Forest Service Web site.

Eastern Kentucky is the highest risk area that is currently uninfected, according to the site.

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