Invasive species are a huge threat to our quality of life, and they're pouring in every day. I noticed in the Wall Street Journal this morning that some beauty parlor owner in Virginia apparently imported a bunch of special little carp (species garra rufa) that will nibble the dead skin off your feet. Nowhere in the article was it mentioned that this guy had simply imported 10,000 of the little rascals into North America without anyone checking to see whether there might be "environmental implications." One of the major box-stores did this with dogwood trees over a decade ago, and brought in a fungus that wiped out North American dogwoods across the south.
And so on.
Anyway, checking through the invasive species list for Wisconsin was pretty scary (fresh water jellyfish?!) -- and now the emerald ash borer has landed: next door, in Newburg.
They’re hungry and they’re here
Do your part in fighting EAB invasion
Washington and Ozaukee counties are under a quarantine. The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has confirmed infestations of the emerald ash borer in Fireman’s Park in Newburg, on private land about 1 1/2 miles east of Newburg and in a number of trees are along the Milwaukee River. First spotted last summer in the two-county border area, this is the EAB’s first appearance in Wisconsin. We’re at ground zero.
The quarantine prohibits moving any ash product – including all hardwood firewood – that could transport larval or adult emerald ash borers. The origin and age of these infestations are still under investigation.
The emerald ash borer is a beautiful little beetle that lays its eggs in ash trees. The eggs hatch into larvae that eat the inner bark lining. Trees tolerate this for about two years and then die. The adults fly off to find new trees. The bugs have overwhelmed DNRs – and DNR budgets – everywhere they’ve appeared. Since surfacing in Michigan in 2001, they’ve killed over 30 million trees.
Here’s an example of what might be coming. Right now, just outside of Chicago, the village of Homewood is preparing to cut down every one of its parkway planted ash trees – nearly 2,600. I lived next door to Homewood during the late ’60s when Dutch elm disease swept through the Midwest, wiping out the elms that had formed those beautiful Gothic arches over neighborhood streets. A lot of elms where re-planted with silver maples and ash trees. Homewood’s town government was vigilant and prepared – and still, they couldn’t do anything to stop the infestation from putting holes in the sky that will last for a generation.
Beauty is one thing. Losing trees also costs money. Ash trees, used to replace American elms after the Dutch Elm epidemic, now make up nearly 20 percent of trees in urban Wisconsin. The DNR estimates that to replace and dispose of the nearly 5.4 million ash trees on public and private property statewide could cost taxpayers as much as $1.5 billion for tree replacement, $776 million for tree removal and disposal, $13 million per year in “lost tree-canopy function to reduce pollution, lower heating and cooling costs, & absorb storm water runoff.”
As bad as this is, it’s just the tip of an even bigger iceberg. The ash borer is not alone. Invasive species constitute one of the greatest threats to the long-term health and sustainability of Wisconsin’s forests – not to mention our lakes and rivers.
Here are some other highlights from the DNR water-born invasive species survey, each with a name scarier than the last one (along with the number of lakes and rivers statewide they’ve infested in parentheses): there’s the banded mystery snail (105); the Chinese mystery snail (217); Eurasian watermilfoil (479); the freshwater jellyfish (61); and, of course, the big favorite, zebra mussels (212).
All I could think of when I read this was “mystery snails?” and “yikes! freshwater jellyfish?!” Fortunately, these have yet to appear locally, but Washington County is already home to Eurasian milfoil (in Big Cedar, Little Cedar, and Pike Lake) and zebra mussels (in Big Cedar). If the milfoil doesn’t clog your outboard, we can expect massive algae blooms and eventual fish extinctions wherever the zebras take root.
So what do we do about these ash borers?
The DNR has created pages of “best management practices” but most are common sense: learn to recognize invasive species and report them; before you move your trailer, boats, etc., clean them off (remember, milfoil and zebra mussels got into Big Cedar hitching a ride on somebody’s boat or trailer); volunteer to help control invasive species; and, above all, do not transport firewood.
There’s a lot of easy to access information online at: www.emeraldashborer.wi.gov (or phone 1-800-462-2803) or the DNR’s Webs ite on other invasive species, dnr.wi.gov/invasives.
The DNR is getting cut back in the next budget, so we can’t rely on government to take care of this – they can’t protect us from crooks on Wall Street so why should we expect them to protect us from a bug, even one that threatens our forests and the quality of our neighborhoods? What’s needed is good, old-fashioned civic responsibility. We’re worth it. West Bend has won the National Arbor Day Foundation’s Tree City USA award since 1982. Today, in 2009, there are thousands of ash trees in West Bend and as many as 7.2 million (yes, million) in Washington County. We could lose all of ‘em.
Everyone is a warden now. Put your hat on.