Jessamine County

Insect endangers Ky. ash trees

An insect called the emerald ash borer has been found in two Kentucky counties, which means trouble for the state's hundreds of millions of ash trees.

The borer was confirmed last week in several trees in a residential area of Jessamine County and in a woodlot in Shelby County.

The discovery has been expected and feared by Kentucky foresters and entomologists since the small, metallic green beetle from Asia was found seven years ago near Detroit.

"It's something we knew was going to make it here, but we dreaded it, and now the wait is over," said Lee Townsend, an extension entomologist with the University of Kentucky.

Officials estimate that the beetle has killed tens of millions of ash trees in Michigan, and tens of millions more in 10 other states and two Canadian provinces.

It also has cost municipalities, property owners, nursery operators and forest products industries tens of millions of dollars. Hillerich & Bradsby, which makes Louisville Slugger baseball bats from northern white ash trees grown along the Pennsylvania-New York border, says there "is reason for serious concern."

The most common ash tree in Kentucky is the white ash. The state Division of Forestry estimates that there are 131 million white ashes in Kentucky. There are an estimated 92 million green ash trees.

A 2005 survey in Lexington found that 11 percent of the city's street trees are ashes.

Representatives of the Office of the State Entomologist will meet with federal agricultural officials to work on a plan to combat the insect, said Joe Collins, a senior nursery inspector at UK.

The first step, he said, will be a thorough search of the area around the infestations. That probably will be followed by a quarantine around the infected areas, Collins said.

Several trees in each location are infested, and the trees were showing signs of decline. Townsend said that means it is likely that the borer has been there for two or three years.

"The damage has to get fairly severe before the infestation is noticed," Townsend said. "I think we are going to see infestations showing up in widely dispersed areas of the state."

Kentuckians are asked to avoid transporting firewood, even within the state, and to not buy out-of-state firewood. Firewood could include infected ash wood.

People with ash trees are asked to inspect them. Signs that the insect is present include death of the upper tree canopy, sprouts growing from roots and the trunk, loose bark, signs of woodpecker activity and D-shaped holes in the truck.

Several insecticides that kill ash borers are available to professionals. For homeowners, the recommended insecticide is Bayer Advanced Tree & Shrub Insect Control, which contains an active ingredient called imidacloprid. It is sprayed on the ground around the tree trunk, then taken up into the tree.

"If you're within 10 or 15 miles of a known infestation, it's worth your while to begin a preventative treatment," Townsend said.

Suspected infestations should be reported to the Emerald Ash Borer Hotline, 1-866-322-4512, or the state entomologist, (859) 257-5838.

The ash borers discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in summer 2002 probably arrived in wood packing material from Asia. It was in a part of Michigan with a lot of hunting, camping and movement of firewood. It has since spread to Ontario, Quebec, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

For information, including an insecticide guide, go to www.emeraldashborer.info or http://pest.ca.uky.edu/EXT/EAB/welcome.html.

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