- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Maryland Department of Agriculture plans to cut down 17,000 ash trees to stop the spread of a voracious Chinese beetle.

The trees are being cut down in a 21-square-mile area of Prince George’s County, where the emerald ash borer was discovered after arriving at a Clinton-area nursery in a shipment of saplings from Michigan.

“If we can contain it here, we can save the entire East Coast,” state agriculture official Dick Bean told the Baltimore Sun. “There will be tens of millions of dead trees if we don’t stop the ash borer.”

The beetle was discovered in 2002 after apparently being imported from Asia in wooden packing crates. The bug then moved to Maryland in 2003 when a Michigan nursery owner, Stuart Leve, shipped 123 infested ash trees to a garden company on Route 5 in Clinton, according to Michigan and Maryland officials.

Mr. Leve was fined $12,300 in April 2003 and received two years’ probation for selling the trees, despite the quarantine in his area, said Angela Riess, a planner for the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

In Asia, parasites and diseases keep the population of emerald ash borer in check, but in the United States the beetle has killed all of the trees it has infested. The beetle’s grublike larvae feed on the cells under the bark that the tree depends on to move water and nutrients, starving it.

Some say cutting down trees is overkill, noting almost a third of the beetles escape by flying away. They argue that pesticides can save infected trees and prevent healthy trees from becoming infected. Researchers are studying genetics, insecticides and natural predators in hopes of finding a way for trees to coexist with the borer.

Mr. Bean said arborists can’t really tell whether a tree is infested with the beetle’s larvae until they cut it down and strip off the bark.

Ohio has spent more than $26 million cutting down about 300,000 ash trees, using a strategy similar to that being used in Maryland, said Melissa Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

However, that didn’t stop the beetle, which has since spread to 26 of the 88 counties in Ohio, Mrs. Brewer said. Last May, Ohio stopped cutting down ash trees when the state ran out of money.

“We just don’t have the tools we need to stop it,” Mrs. Brewer said. “We are looking for a silver bullet.”

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