Summer: It’s a bug’s life

By Brittany Abeijon

As “The Year of the Cicadas” crept upon us, those large, loud, big-eyed insects appeared threatening, but it is the emerald ash borer beetle, nicknamed the Green Menace, that has killed millions of ash trees in the Midwest and has been found recently in the Kane and Cook counties of Illinois.

Many experts believe that the emerald ash borer, a green insect no bigger than a penny native to Asia, arrived in the U.S. from solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes.

The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage. It is the larvae that are causing catastrophic damage by feeding on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting their ability to transport water and nutrients, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

James Appleby, principal research specialist in agriculture in the department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University, said that the emerald ash borer has been in Michigan since 2002, and surfaced in Illinois in 2006.

“They only move about a half mile a year naturally, but humans spread them much quicker,” Appleby said.

The infected areas in Illinois have been quarantined, yet the bug continues to spread, forcing the Illinois Department of Agriculture to expand its quarantined area to all of Kane county.

The department has prohibited the removal of any ash trees – limbs, branches, or bark – and anyone convicted of moving prohibited items from the quarantined area without prior certification by a nursery inspector may be fined up to $500.

“The emphasis is on buying locally produced firewood from places such as Kickapoo State Park so it’s not being moved long distances from one area to another,” Appleby said. “Especially from Michigan, where the trees are heavily infested with emerald ash borers.”

A Web site was created in part of a multi-state effort in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Maryland to display the latest information about the emerald ash borer. On emeraldashborer.info, the slogan reads, “Don’t take firewood on vacation: Buy it at your destination.”

According to an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed a new plan to fight back against the Green Menace. The plan involves the release of three different species of Asian wasps that prey on the emerald ash borer beetle.

The release of these wasps will not eliminate the emerald ash borer, but simply slow the spread, according to Appleby.

Appleby said, “While some people may think it is good to eliminate a certain beetle, sometimes parasites have other hosts. The release of these wasps may affect a beneficial insect or insects preyed upon by birds.

“Bird species may have not much to feed on because their food sources have been depleted. This could indirectly result in human dangers by causing other problems.”

Sandra Mason, the unit educator for Horticulture and Environment in the Champaign County Unit, said that the 2,000 ash trees in Champaign are scattered evenly throughout campus, forests and gardens.

“The ash tree is a native tree,” Mason said. “It is planted a lot.”

Mason suggests that any devastation of the ash tree to our campus would have a significant impact on our environment.

“Ash trees are tough trees and sometimes very big. When you lose that many trees it changes the look and feel of the environment. These trees keep both cities and homes cooler, so without them it is much hotter especially in urban environments with lots of concrete,” Mason said.

Because the beetle can travel very fast through human interaction, University students worry about the damage the insect could cause campus.

Heather Busse, junior in Agriculture, cannot imagine the Quad without ash trees.

Busse said, “I enjoy all of the trees on our campus, and the thought of something killing many of them is very upsetting.

“These trees give us shade to study in and can serve as a break from Champaign winds. Without them, our campus would look very flat, bare and boring.”

Busse grew up on a farm in southern Illinois and she believes that agriculture is the most important industry in the state and one of the reasons the University of Illinois was founded.

“Our campus is a world leader in agriculture and research. I would be very disappointed if the bug spread to our campus and I would feel that it was the responsibility of the University to begin immediate spraying or other measures to remove the pest and prevent it from spreading to other areas,” Busse said.

Many people are expressing concerns about the possible release of the additional foreign insects, Asian wasps that have never before been used in this country as “bio-control” agents, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“I hope that the USDA has done enough research to know how these species of wasps will react in the Champaign environment. I am worried that they could eat and even destroy species other than the beetles they were released to kill,” Busse said.