Trees in and around Hampshire County are being damaged and destroyed by invasive species, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
“We have a lot of problems with forests right now,” said Quentin “Butch” Sayers, the assistant director for plant industries division and the forest health protection program for the state at New Creek.
“Invasive species introduced into the United States from around the globe are affecting plant and animal communities on our farms, in our forests, in our parks, our waters and backyards,” Sayers said, adding ash trees are dying at an amazing rate because of the emerald ash borer.
The emerald ash borer is a tiny invasive insect that has killed millions of ash trees in North America since it was discovered in July 2002.
An estimated 61,500 purple prism traps that resemble a three-sided box kite have been set nationwide to initiate an in-depth study of the emerald ash borer.
West Virginia Forestry spokesperson Leslie Fitzwater said experts believe the insect is native to eastern Russia, Korea, Japan and China, and originally came into the United States through Michigan in shipping materials.
The federal government has quarantined and banned the transport of ash tree materials and all hardwood firewood from known infected areas including West Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
The USDA reports that so far the insect has been detected in 15 states.
Ash is the food of choice for the emerald ash borer, although it eats all hardwoods.
The wood is used to make baseball bats, canoe paddles, handles for tools, crafts and hockey sticks as well as other items.
Another insect creating havoc on the forest is the brown marmorated stink bug.
In 2010, the stink bug caused a $37 million loss to the fruit industry, the equivalent of about 3.7 million bushels of fruit.
Unless scientists can find a way to eradicate the stink bug, Sayers said, the insect will continue to damage the fruit crop more and more each year.
Another invasive species — the woolly adelgid — is attacking hemlock trees.
Sayers said hemlock could be saved but the treatment is very expensive.
“Tree by tree has to have stem injection and soil injection,” Sayers said, adding the treatment, which can’t be sprayed the way gypsy moth pesticide is applied, could take from three to five years.
Gypsy moths are also on the rebound, according to Sayers.
“They may not be too bad this year but next year the population will increase and we’ll have to start treating them again,” he said.
Since 1980, the gypsy moth has defoliated nearly a million or more forested acres each year.
“They gypsy moth kind of runs in an eight-to 10-year cycle. The last major problem was in 2001-2002,” Sayers said.
Also threatening the forest again this year is the Eastern tent caterpillar, which is often mistaken for the gypsy moth. Though they are similar in appearance, they differ in habits.
The fully-grown Eastern tent caterpillar is about two inches long, black with a white stripe along the middle of the back and a row of pale blue oval spots on each side. It is sparsely covered with fine light brown hairs.
The gypsy moth caterpillar, when fully grown, is also about two inches long, but it has pairs of blue and red spots on its back.
Unlike the gypsy moths, the eastern tent caterpillar can be readily identified by the tent it constructs in the forks of tree branches. It can also be seen hanging from a silken threadlike substance in a tree.
Sayers said damage to flora from insects can’t be understated.
“Invasive insect damage has impacts on the economy and have proved to be one of the main drivers behind the loss of biodiversity in many ecosystems,” he said, adding taking care of trees is a constant battle and requires that everyone be vigilant.
“Everyone should make sure trees stay healthy. If something out of the ordinary is spotted on a tree, folks should get hold of us right away,” Sayers said. “If we catch a problem early it can be quarantined and we can stop it before it gets started.”
Sayers said some important threats on the West Virginia forest watch list are Asian Longhorned Beetle, Sudden Oak Death and Thousand Cankers Disease.
For more information or for help from the DOA, call 304-558-3550.