‘They’re critically important’: Virginia’s ash trees are under siege

‘They’re critically important’: Virginia’s ash trees are under siege
In an undated photo provided by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, an adult emerald ash borer is shown. The highly destructive insects which kill ash trees are metallic green and about 1/2-inch long. (Source: AP Photo/Minnesota Department of Natural Resources)

The emerald ash borer looks like nothing so much as an Elvis impersonator in insect form.

When hit with light, its green and gold body sparkles as if the bug is wearing a sequined jumpsuit; its eyes, glistening protuberances that consume most of its head, command attention. Both the insect and the impersonator are objects of fascination, things that are strange and extravagant, out of place in the sober light of day.

But where the latter is a curiosity, the former is a threat. No mere interloper, the emerald ash borer, a native of Asia, has for more than a decade been penetrating the U.S., often by hitchhiking on bundles of firewood carried by campers. Wherever it has spread, it has invaded ash trees, tunneling beneath their bark, disrupting the internal systems that carry nutrients and water and eventually killing them. Once infested, few trees survive: Mortality is nearly 100 percent, and nationwide losses are already estimated to number in the tens of millions.

“There are places that it is very obvious that you have a lot of dead standing trees,” said Elizabeth Matthews, a botanist who oversees efforts to inventory and monitor forests in the National Park Service’s National Capital Region, an area that includes Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia.

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