A tree-killing beetle that wiped out millions of ash trees in Michigan has grabbed a foothold in Toledo, and pest experts now are focused on stopping it from spreading through the Midwest.
New infestations discovered in the last few months indicate that the beetle, called the emerald ash borer, is moving south into Ohio.
Researchers are worried that the beetle — which is no larger than a paperclip — could destroy billions of ash trees that line city streets or are harvested to make cabinets and baseball bats.
Razing of trees considered
A national panel of scientists will meet this week with recommendations for government agencies on how to keep the beetle from spreading any farther.
One possibility: Cutting down ash trees in a 6-mile-wide path stretching from western Lake Erie through northwest Ohio to the Michigan line.
The goal is to create a firewall of sorts that would build a natural barrier for the beetle, isolating it in Michigan, where the ash borer was first discovered in the United States two years ago.
Scientists suspect that the insect arrived in cargo ships from Asia about a decade ago.
“It’s getting down to crunch time on whether it can be stopped,” said Dan Herms, an entomologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
Melissa Brewer, a spokeswoman for the State Agriculture Department, said it was clear that northwest Ohio was on “the leading edge of a larger infestation.”
Until recently, pest experts thought the infestations found around Toledo were the result of people bringing in firewood and ash trees from Michigan. Now it appears that the beetle has moved naturally into the area, Herms said.
Ash trees under siege
It might be too late to save the thousands of ash trees in Toledo and its suburbs. It is likely that ash trees in those areas where the beetle already has spread will be infested or cut down, Herms said.
The impact could be devastating to ash trees in the eastern United States if it breaks out of northwest Ohio, Herms said.
“It needs to start now, because the rate of the main infestation is spreading,” Herms said.
Where the trees would be cut down and who would pay for it has not been determined. Some preventive cutting, however, has already started in the Maumee State Forest south of Toledo.