emerald ash borers now threaten wood for baseball bats

There’s a small beetle destroying forests across Canada and eastern U.S. Scientists say the emerald ash borers, exotic beetles imported accidentally from Asia, have killed as many as 50 million trees.

They’re now threatening groves in New York’s Adirondack Mountains that are used to make an iconic kind of baseball bat, writes Brian Mann of NPR.

Here’s more from Mann, who spoke to Rawlings plant manager Ron Vander Groef:

“If the ash borer is not controlled, it’ll wipe out the entire species of white ash,” Vander Groef says. “We will not be able to make any more pro bats or retail bats or anything out of white ash because it will be gone.”

The Rawlings plant makes about 300,000 bats a year and about 70 percent of those have been made of ash. Vander Groef says the company’s supply could be gone — or become unaffordable — within three years.

Of course, there’s a much larger issue here than baseball bats. After all, maple and birch make for fine bats too. The damage the beetles are doing to the ecosystem is a far greater concern.

“It’s bordering on catastrophic,” says Deborah McCullough, a scientist at Michigan State University. She was one of the first entomologists to realize that emerald ash borers had invaded.

Federal and state officials across the country are working to try to quarantine areas affected by emerald ash borers. That means no untreated wood can be moved out of those areas. They’re also experimenting with insecticides and with the release of a variety of wasp that targets ash borer larvae.

90 percent of ash trees have been destroyed by the beetle.

If you have an ash tree on your property, here’s what to look for:

•    Premature yellowing of leaves
•    Dead branches
•    Cracks in the tree bark
•    Thinning of the crown
•    Epicormic shoots
•    Feeding sites for woodpeckers and squirrels
•    D-shaped exit holes
•    Feeding notches in the leaves

If you suspect you have an ash tree that has already been infected, contact a certified arbourist for a professional evaluation.

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