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Chester County Press

Editorial: The little green beetle in a county of ash trees

04/21/2015 01:53PM ● By Richard Gaw

At first glance, the emerald ash borer does not have any of the visible characteristics that would label it ferocious or threatening. It is only about one-third of an inch long, and its outer shell is an attractive metallic green, but go beyond the harmless outer shell and you will soon realize that the size and the colors have all been a generous and deadly deception. The truth is that this little beetle, which first arrived in the United States from China 14 years ago, has infiltrated 21 states, and in the process, has destroyed more than 40 million ash trees in its wake.

They arrive in April-May and during June-July, the insect bores into ash trees and makes deposits of eggs that morph into larval form, which then circumnavigates the ash tree and cuts off any nutrients that extend to the upper branches.

In 2007, the beetle was first detected in Pennsylvania, and since then, billions of them have worked their way from the western regions of the state eastward. Fifty six of 67 counties in the state have been infected.

On April 15, in a report before the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors, two members of the township's Environmental Advisory Council said that Chester County is at a severe risk to lose its entire population of ash trees from an invasion of the emerald ash borer, or EAB. In Kennett Township alone, the EAB could kill thousands of trees throughout the heavily-wooded township and Anson Nixon Park.

Chester County is among the remaining counties in Pennsylvania that is about to be infected. When? No one knows exactly. How? By means of an invasion. Are we – as townships and municipalities – properly prepared to fight back?

The logistics of stemming off a complete destruction of ash trees in Chester County is one that must have its beginnings in collaboration. The time of townships huddling up in their own bungalows to solve this problem is over. Those who govern our townships and municipalities must reach across their borders and create task forces, and no, not filled just with elected officials and good-hearted volunteers, but made up of a full-time management team of environmental specialists – possibly including experts from Longwood Gardens and Winterthur Museum – who can best determine what biological controls may hold back the EAB infestation.

Where elected officials will do the most good is in determining possible funding sources and partnerships; drafting township ordinances that regulate disposal of ash trees; reaching out to counties in the state who are currently battling the arrival of the EAB in their own provinces; and helping to circulate the right information to their constituents.

It takes an emerald ash borer about three years to entirely kill an ash tree. However, it will take about three weeks to form a consortium of elected officials and environmental specialists in Chester County and create a management plan that takes the first steps in eradicating a potential disaster before it begins.