Invasive Beetle On Course To 'Functionally Remove' Ash Trees From Arkansas Forests

Oct 5, 2016

The Emerald Ash Borer as an adult and larva inside a tree.
Credit University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service

Arkansas Agriculture officials are expanding a quarantine area to protect against the spread of an invasive beetle but say mass devastation of the state’s ash trees may only be a matter of time. Eight more Arkansas counties, including Pulaski, were added to the state’s quarantine list this week. The number of counties under quarantine is now at 21. Another 12 counties have confirmed sightings of the Emerald Ash Borer.

Quarantines from the state Department of Agriculture’s Plant Board are intended to stop humans from inadvertently helping the Asian insects traverse long distances. Forest Health Specialist Chandler Barton with the Arkansas Forestry Commission says its enforcement can sometimes be a challenge.

“We can monitor some things. We can monitor the movement of wood to mills. When foresters cut trees and put them on to log trucks that gets monitored and they have compliance agreements. That’s the one thing we can keep a good eye on,” says Barton. “Something we have difficulty monitoring is firewood movement. It’s your small mom and pop groups that are moving it, usually not long distances, but it’s enough to be worried about. It’s pretty tough to regulate such a thing.”

The Emerald Ash Borer first appeared in the United States in Michigan in 2002 and reached Arkansas two years ago. Barton says U.S. forests are simply easy prey for the beetle, “Our environment is not accustomed to it, our trees are not immune to it and vulnerable, and the insect takes advantage of that.”

While the State Plant Board hopes the quarantine will slow the spread of the insect, Barton worries it’s a losing battle and one that is already lost in counties with confirmed sightings.

“Emerald Ash Borer has got to the point where eradication is impossible. It can be controlled to some respect but at this stage in the game eradication is not going to happen,” says Barton. “Controlling it, unfortunately, is beyond the point of no return.”

The consequence of the spread will be just short of apocalyptic for ash trees, says Barton.

“In the closer or near distant future we’re going to see Emerald Ash Borer throughout the state. It’s going to affect most of the ash we find in Arkansas. It’s going to functionally remove ash from our ecosystem. It doesn’t mean it’s going to make ash extinct it’s just going to be pretty hard to find,” says Barton. “Maybe in the very, very distant future we can see ash in our forests again but for the time being we may have to worry about seeing it gone for a while.”

Forest officials still have a few tricks up their sleeves in curbing the spread of the invasive species. Barton says the state is in the middle of a three-year bio-control agent release program at three sites, in the form of releasing Asian wasps known to lower the beetle population. 

Click here for an Arkansas map of counties under quarantine and with confirmed sightings.