It was about 2004. The voice mail on my answering machine at The Times-Herald in Port Huron, Mich., was from a woman who lived in Cottrellville Township, which is along the St. Clair River across from Canada in St. Clair County.
I don’t recall the woman’s name, but her message was pretty simple. She was scared for her ash tree, the same one that her ancestors planted in front of her farm house decades ago when they settled the property in Michigan’s thumb.
I had just written a story about the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality enacting a “burn the village to save it” plan to rid St. Clair County of the emerald ash borer.
The woman’s tree was not infested with the bug, which originated in Asia. But it was within a certain radius of another ash tree where the beetle was found.
And so, her tree had to be cut down to prevent the ash borer from spreading.
“You’ve got to help us out,” she cried on the voice mail.
There wasn’t much I could do back then, other than to report the plan by DEQ (Michigan’s equivalent to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection) and the reaction of residents like her.
There can be a significant economic impact from the ash borer. In a 2007 paper from The Ohio State University, researchers found that, “in aggregate, the total losses for Ohio communities, including ash landscape losses, tree removal and replacements, are estimated to range between $1.8 and $7.6 billion for a single insect pest in a single state. The potential total costs in Ohio are estimated to be between $157,000 and $665,000 per 1,000 residents.”
I know similar things have happened in Pennsylvania to prevent the spread of pests and disease. Adams County’s fruit belt knows this with the plum pox virus, where thousands of acres of trees were ripped out and replanted. In an email, Ruth Welliver, the Department of Agriculture’s plant pathology program manager, said about $30 million was paid in compensation to fruit growers in Pennsylvania.
There’s a new threat to Penn’s Woods. It, too, is a pest from Asia.
The state Department of Agriculture put out the word last week for everyone in the state to be on the lookout for the Asian longhorned beetle. Agriculture Secretary George Greig wants you to collect suspected longhorned beetles and get them to experts for analysis. The county’s Penn State Cooperative Extension is the best place to start, he said.
“Many Pennsylvanians are aware of the threat that invasive species pose to our state’s timber, maple syrup and tourism industries, but awareness isn’t enough,” Greig said. “Since Asian longhorned beetles are similar in appearance to more common beetles, we need citizens to capture samples and submit them to experts for identification.”
Pennsylvania’s forest products industry generates $5.5 billion in sales annually and employs nearly 90,000 people at more than 3,000 facilities across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association. Gov. Tom Corbett, as he was kayaking the Schuylkill River last week, noted that the state’s tourism industry in 2012 generated $38.4 billion in sales. Maple syrup production in Pennsylvania was worth just short of $3.8 million in 2012, according to the USDA.
This bug could mean bucks.
So, you and your employees should be on the lookout for the Asian longhorned beetle.
But unlike the woman in Michigan, don’t leave me a voice mail. Get hold of your local cooperative extension or call the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s toll-free pest hot line at 1-866-253-7189, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.