Nation, industry need effective action to halt ash-eating
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
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
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
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
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.