The green ash tree, whose leaf and bark are shown here, is one of five ash tree species in Georgia threatened by the emerald ash borer, a non-native beetle from Asia. Tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. and Canada already have been killed by the beetle, which could cause extinction of the trees. (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

Invasive beetle threatens Georgia’s ash trees with devastation

In Georgia’s forests and cities, ash trees are some of our most beautiful and economically important tree species. In autumn, their yellow and purplish leaves provide some of the most striking leaf color of any of our native trees.

Sadly, they are doomed. It’s only a matter of time, perhaps, until nearly all them are dead. Extinction is a possibility.

If we lose our ash trees, fall will never be the same.

The killer is the emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle from Asia first detected in Michigan in 2002. It has now spread to 27 states, including Georgia, where it was first detected in 2013.

Entomologists are calling the ash borer the most devastating insect ever to invade North American forests. Tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. and Canada already have died from it; now, Atlanta’s ashes are threatened.

Ash trees are part of Atlanta’s famed tree canopy and play important ecological roles in urban watersheds and flood plains. Preventing the spread of ash borer is crucial, noted Joe Thomas of Trees Atlanta.

Unlike our native beetles that kill weakened trees as part of the natural nutrient recycling process, emerald ash borers kill healthy trees, said the Georgia Forestry Commission, which is waging a desperate battle against the beetle.

A quarantine has been imposed in most North Georgia counties to prevent the spread of infested ash wood. Foresters fear, however, that stopping the beetle may be impossible.

“Nevertheless, we’re not giving up,” said Chip Bates, state forest health coordinator.

The most common of Georgia’s five native ash species are the white ash and green ash, whose timber is prized for making baseball bats, hockey sticks and furniture.

The forestry commission estimates that the commercial and ecological value of Georgia’s ash trees may exceed $1.2 billion.

IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The South Taurid meteor shower reaches peaks at about 10 meteors per hour this weekend — in the east from about midnight until dawn.

The moon will be full tonight — the “Trading Moon,” as the Cherokee peoples called this month‘s full moon. Mercury is low in the west at dusk. Venus and Mars are low in the east just before dawn. Saturn sets in the west shortly after dark.