Pennsylvania keeps a sharp eye on EAB

Setting an emerald ash borer trap in Erie, Pa.   A sticky band with photos of EAB as a visual attractant on a girdled ash.

It’s coming, and no state department of agriculture from Illinois and Michigan eastward can do anything about it. What is it? It’s the emerald ash borer (EAB).

Finding the beetle

According to Sven Spichiger, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s (PDA) epidemiologist, the PDA has been expecting EAB infestation for the past few years. They’ve worked hard to educate arborists, who were subcontracted with Pennsylvania Power and Light Company, to keep an eye out for ash trees contaminated with EAB. Spichiger says, “When you’re cutting down a lot of ash trees, you should suspect that something’s wrong.” When the cutters kept quiet about the number of ash trees that were being cut away, Spichiger was disappointed. “We did a lot of education talks with them.”

Because a lot of PDA epidemiologists enjoy collecting beetles as a hobby, they know how to detect beetle infestation in trees, and that is how EAB was discovered in Cranberry Township, on the western edge of Pennsylvania. “We made a 5-mile circle around the infected tree and found what we think is the epicenter, a few miles east from the first detection.”

There is no effective way to trap EAB. Instead, the PDA has used surveillance for adult EAB infestation into the trees. The PDA figured they have a short window of time to find infected trees: from mid-June to mid-July. “The only way I can tell that there is an infestation is by peeling the bark away from the tree,” Spichiger says.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot that can be done once infestation is documented, except to destroy the infected trees or use chemicals to get rid of the pest. Using chemicals can be expensive for a state budget when there is a forest of ash trees in Pennsylvania.

According to Spichiger, there are over 20 million infested ash trees in the U.S., and all of them have to be destroyed. The best that anyone can do is quarantine the surrounding area to slow down the progression of EAB, and these quarantines are manifested through the federal government. So far, federal quarantines exist in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The law states that it’s illegal to transport any ash wood, unless it has been kiln-dried, out of the quarantined areas.

What happens when someone tries to smuggle cut ash wood out of the quarantined areas? According to the PDA, it’s a criminal offense, and those who break the law will face stiff penalties. According to the PDA library,
plantindustry files/publications/EAB_Quarantine.pdf
, “A person who violates this order will face summary criminal prosecution carrying up to 90 days’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $300 with respect to each violation. In addition, a person who violates this order may be assessed a civil penalty of up to $20,000 with respect to each violation.”

Right now, the PDA works with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources-Parks and Forestry divisions; Penn State University Extension Office; the U.S. Forest Service; USDA’s APHIS-Plant Health, Plant Protection and Quarantine Division; Penn DOT; the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission; and the Pennsylvania Game Commission. All of these groups make up the task force that divides up various responsibilities of monitoring for EAB infestation, as well as keeping tabs on ash wood leaving the quarantined boundaries.

The task force is working along major highways in western Pennsylvania because of tree lines that begin by the highways and give easy access for detecting EAB infestation. Quarantined areas extend over four Pennsylvania counties: Allegheny, Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties. The first detection was in the southwestern corner of Butler County.

The emerald ash borer

According to Kristi Rooker of the PDA, “The emerald ash borer is a wood-boring beetle native to China and eastern Asia. The pest likely arrived in North America hidden in wood packing materials commonly used to ship consumer and other goods. It was first detected in July 2002 in southeastern Michigan and neighboring Windsor, Ont., Canada. The beetle has since been blamed for the death and decline of more than 20 million ash trees in Ohio, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia and Illinois.”

Spichiger concurs by stating that he can’t say for certain how Maryland’s infestation occurred. It could’ve been the same beetle infestation that has been occurring across the Midwest, or it could’ve come from Asia. The PDA, with the help of the USDA, has been preparing itself for a major EAB attack over the past several years.

A source that covers the states affected by EAB,, claims that it has cost municipalities, property owners, nursery operators and the forest product industries tens of millions of dollars.

Mandates on moving byproducts

Keeping an eye out for ash trees leaving the quarantined areas is another reason the task force works along the highways. Overall, Spichiger has found most people realize the danger that’s imposed on the rest of Pennsylvania’s ash trees if infected trees are moved out of the quarantined areas. “A lot of people have been calling the hotline, which is answered by one person. The calls keep coming in. Folks are good about not transporting ash wood, but I worry about those who haven’t called,” Spichiger says.

Nursery operators have prepared for EAB’s invasion, so they’ve started stocking up on other types of trees. The PDA has also advised property owners about destroying ash trees on their property since it’s only a manner of time until EAB will infest those trees, if they haven’t already.

The real problem comes when disposing of infected trees. Each community has different sets of ordinances that govern tree eradication. In other words, some communities, particularly rural ones, will allow property owners to burn the trees themselves. Whereas, more urban areas are required to have their trash collector take care of the trees, and the PDA needs to be on top of how the trees are destroyed once the city takes ownership of the discarded trees. The only effective method to killing an EAB-infested tree is to burn it.

There really isn’t anything that can be done to stop the onslaught of EAB, but some states have started collecting ash seeds, hoping to breed them with a resistant strain of EAB. Spichiger hopes that research will one day discover a cost-effective means of destroying EAB before it destroys the rest of the United State’s ash tree population.

Until then, Spichiger and the rest of the Pennsylvania task force will continue to keep an eye out for more infected trees, trying to stop the movement of EAB and educate others in EAB surveillance. Preparation to impede the infestation is the only course of action… for now.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ephrata, Pa.