Park bracing for devastation of ash trees

out ashborerThe first backcountry emerald ash borer infestation has been confirmed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

An off-duty park employee discovered the backcountry infestation on Injun Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area on the Tennessee-side of the park earlier this month. The employee noticed a pile of bark chips at the base of several ash trees, which is a strong indicator of borer presence.

Paul Merten, a forest insect specialist from the USDA Forest Service in Asheville confirmed the discovery at the site by looking under ash tree bark for feeding tunnels left by the immature beetle.

“The infestation is well established,” Merten said, “probably two years old or older.”

Since 2009, officials have been monitoring for the presence of the borer. Infestations in more widely used areas on the Tennessee side of the Park were confirmed this summer. The emerald ash borer is a half-inch, metallic green beetle that lays eggs on the bark of ash trees. After hatching, the larvae burrow under the bark and create feeding tunnels that cut off nutrients and water to the tree. The tree can die in three to five years.

Complete eradication of the beetle is not feasible, but Park staff is developing a management plan to protect ash trees where possible.

Accidentally introduced to North America from Asia, the borer was first discovered in southeast Michigan in 2002, and has spread to 16 states and two Canadian provinces, killing tens of millions of ash trees.

The pest is transported in firewood. Although Park regulations prohibit bringing firewood to the Smokies from areas that have been quarantined for the beetle or other destructive pests, the beetle has still managed to spread.

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