MILLEDGEVILLE, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) – Georgia has a bit of a pest problem. The emerald ash borer was first spotted in northern Georgia in 2013.
“Beetles feed on ash trees and the ‘grub’ live underneath the bark, so we aren’t usually able to see them,” said GCSU professor Nathan Lord.
Ash trees are a popular hardwood used to make items from furniture to Louisville Slugger baseball bats.
“Ash is a very important hardwood for commercial products,” said Lord.
Research student Payton Burris added, “Drums, guitars, like all those, they use ash to build those type things.”
Now the bug has moved further south, just miles away from forests in Monroe, Putnam, Hancock, Bibb, Jones and Baldwin counties.
“When people move firewood or lumber, often times, we are inadvertently moving these beetles farther than they’d be able to go on their own just by flying.”
Burris says once a tree is infested, there’s not much you can do. Now, the small jewel bugs may be giving lumberers in the state a big problem.
“I think it could impact the lumber industry in a sense that there’s now one less tree to use for making a lot of these products that are made out of ash,” Lord said. “It’s definitely cutting into the ability to use that particular genus of tree for their products,” he continued.
But how can a bug no larger than a grain of rice be responsible for destroying millions of trees? Lord says the lack of natural predators here in Georgia are to blame.
“The reason that these emerald ash borers are doing so well in the United States, is because the ash trees are a different species than their natural habitat.”
But Lord says their working on a plan to regulate the bug’s rapid population growth and hopefully save ash trees in Georgia–using another type of insect.
“There’s actually a special species of wasps that naturally target emerald ash borers for food,” he added.
Burris is one of the research students designated to be “wasp watchers”. She says by releasing the wasps in large numbers, they hope nature will take its course and drastically slow down the spread of these beetles.
The emerald ash borer has been spotted in 30 states across the nation since its discovery in Detroit in 2002. Lord says if the bugs continue to multiply at this rate, the ash species of trees in Georgia will very soon die out.