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As emerald ash borer moves north, experts look not just to contain but kill the pest


As the emerald ash borer — that shiny green stowaway from across the planet — chews its way across the country and ever closer to Jefferson County, experts are looking not just to contain the invasion but to eradicate the pest if possible.

To that end, a recent Cornell University study has given scientists some hope that the Asian wood-boring beetle, which previously had no natural predators in this part of the world, may have finally met its match in the form of two North American insect-eating bird species.

The study found evidence that populations of red-bellied woodpeckers and white-breasted nuthatches have been increasing in areas where emerald ash borers have invaded, leading scientists to believe that these species are feeding upon the beetle, eliminating it from the environment.

The birds join a team of stingless parasitoid wasps from China and Russia that are being bred in massive quantities through a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program in Brighton, Mich., according to Mark C. Whitmore, a forest entomologist in Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources.

The wasps lay their eggs in the beetle and the young consume the host, swiftly killing it.

A combination of the use of predators — known as biological control — and trying to find an ash tree variant that is resistant to the pest are the best hopes of stopping the emerald ash borer in its tracks, Mr. Whitmore said.

In July, the beetle was found in the town of DeWitt in Onondaga County.

Mr. Whitmore said there is a “100 percent chance” that the emerald ash borer eventually will make its way to Jefferson County.

As the fight goes on, one of the more cost-effective measures to prevent the spread of the pest is simply to remove the trees — a process that still is relatively expensive but costs less than treating the trees with insecticide, a precaution that must be repeated every year.

The cost of removing trees killed by the emerald ash borer could rise into the billions of dollars, Mr. Whitmore said, especially considering the estimated 160,000 miles of electric power lines in New York state that are in danger of being damaged by falling trees.

There are more than 200 trees per mile around the power lines and 20 percent of those are ash trees, Mr. Whitmore said. It costs approximately $350 to remove a tree, according to Mr. Whitmore.

Though the possibility of having a pair of new allies in the fight has given scientists some hope, the likelihood that the beetle will be beaten back is still remote. In the face of that prospect, Mr. Whitmore said, residents and municipalities need to prepare for the worst.

“It’s going to cost a lot of money and everybody’s going to be affected. People need to start planning,” he said.

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