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Great Lakes Article:

Barring the borer
Nation, industry need effective action to halt ash-eating beetles
The Columbus Dispatch

Global trade came home to roost in suburban Detroit this summer when tree crews cut down block after block of giant old ash trees infested with the emerald ash borer. The thumbnail-sized beetle hitchhiked to the Midwest from a port along the northern Pacific Rim within the last decade and has been wreaking havoc ever since, killing 6 million ash trees so far and causing millions of dollars in damages.

Now the bug is making its way into Ohio, home to 3.8 billion ash trees. The state will be lucky if it can keep this invasive species contained to northwest Ohio, where 3,000 ash trees have been destroyed within a quarter-mile of a home near Toledo where the bug was found. If containment is not possible, Ohioans will pay an enormous price for the governmentís inability to prevent this pest from entering the country and to recognize it when it first surfaced.

The price for more effective prevention of such invaders making their way into - and out of - the United States is considerable. The government and industry groups are reluctant to take on such costs.

But as a Dispatch series this week has illustrated, those costs have to be weighed against the astronomical price this country now pays and will continue to pay to battle the devastating financial, ecological and aesthetic effects of non-native animals and plants that have found their way to U.S. soil.

U.S. taxpayers spend at least $138 billion a year fighting invasive species. Thatís nearly seven times Ohioís annual state budget.

Fighting the tiny zebra mussel alone, brought into the country undetected in shipsí ballast water, could cost $5 billion to control during the next decade as it spreads in the Great Lakes region. Since 1980, gypsy-moth caterpillars brought here from France have defoliated about a million forested acres each year, causing an estimated $22 million in annual losses. The emerald ash borer so far has cost southeast Michigan $14 million in lost lumber and landscaping business.

By all accounts, increased inspection of shipping containers is not a reasonable option.

Many scientists say the most effective prevention is to phase out raw-wood packaging, the cheapest and most popular packing material. The federal government agrees. But industry interest groups have successfully battled against requiring more costly alternative shipping materials.

The woodpackaging industry, which employs 51,000 people nationwide, has been lobbying to instead require fumigation. But fumigation might do little more than damage the environment without solving the problem. The most popular treatment is fumigation with methyl bromide, a potent pesticide being phased out in other areas because it damages the ozone layer. U.S. Department of Agriculture reports have concluded methyl bromide often canít kill deep-wood pests, such as the ash borer and the Asian long-horned beetle, which killed thousands of maple, walnut and ash trees in Chicago; Jersey City, N.J.; and New York City in recent years.

So while alternate shipping materials are expensive, so too are the consequences of continuing the status quo.

Government officials have acknowledged their failure to fight invasive species. The National Invasive Species Councilís 2001 management plan bluntly states, "No comprehensive national system is in place for detecting and responding to incipient invasions."

Now, Ohioans will be dealing with the consequences, and they have 3.8 billion good reasons to worry.

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