Invasive plants and pests are spreading faster, and they’re getting a lot of help

By on June 9, 2022

Now that the months have turned to summer, folks are spending more time outdoors. Whether that makes you an outdoor enthusiast, or simply puts you in the yard, in front of a grill or by the pool, you may notice new tree damage and unfamiliar insects. While many people associate tree damage with weather events, invasive species can crawl their way onto the scene quicker than one might expect. In fact, they don’t have to crawl very far because they’re getting plenty of help from outdoor recreationists.

Insects and diseases claim more timber each year than any other forest menace. Invasive forest pests including insects, diseases, plants and animals can have a dramatic effect on forest resources in North Carolina. These pests can, and have, hitchhiked their way to our state by way of wood packaging material and infested nursery plants. However, the primary cause for the spread of invasive pests continues to be human activity.

Fortunately, the process to help slow the spread of invasive species is a simple one. Think of it as washing your hands to prevent spreading germs. These non-native species can attach themselves to a variety of things such as RVs, camping tents, bicycle tires, boats, jet skis, clothes, boots or shoes and even pets. As people wrap up their outdoor activity and move on to a different area, if gear isn’t thoroughly washed or wiped off, there’s a good chance these uninvited guests are well on their way to finding a new home. Having the awareness to clean any and all gear and equipment used during outdoor activities continues to be the best defense against spreading invasive species. For simple steps and resources to help stop invasive species in your tracks, visit playcleango.org.

Moving firewood is another way invasive species are easily transported. Tree-killing diseases and insects often hide in firewood and when that wood is moved from one place to another, there’s a chance the threat moves with it. Refrain from moving firewood more than 50 miles. If you can keep it within 10 miles, that is best. Source local wood. Buy it where you intend to burn it, or purchase certified heat-treated firewood. For more helpful guidance, visit dontmovefirewood.org. To find local and certified heat-treated firewood vendors in your area, try FirewoodScout.org.      

North Carolina has had its fair share of invasive encounters, and there are many invasive forest pests currently threatening to move into the state. So far in 2022, the emerald ash borer (EAB), a tree-killing insect, was detected in Pitt and Stanly counties by N.C. Forest Service personnel, bringing the number of counties impacted by the insect to 64. The N.C. Forest Service also detected laurel wilt, a disease-causing fungus brought on by the redbay ambrosia beetle, in Carteret, Craven and Scotland counties. There are currently 17 counties in North Carolina where laurel wilt has been detected. Other notable species that are being closely monitored by the N.C. Forest Service but have not yet been detected in the state include Asian longhorned beetle and the spotted lanternfly.

Personnel from the N.C. Forest Service detect emerald ash borer activity by identifying galleries on the inside of the tree bark and the D-shaped exit holes where adult beetles emerge from the tree.

Monitoring for potential invasive forests pests poses a challenge and should not be taken lightly. Traps are placed throughout the state by N.C. Forest Service personnel in areas where the greatest likelihood for these pests exists. Signs and symptoms that a tree may be infected by an invasive pest may include canopy dieback, bark damage, woodpecker activity, wilting, dying leaves and dead or dropping branches. Anyone suspecting the presence of an invasive pest in a new area should contact their local NCFS county ranger’s office. For contact information, visit www.ncforestservice.gov/contacts.

A tree that has died as a result of emerald ash borer infestation.

Trees are essential to wildlife habitats, and they benefit us all by filtering our water and cleaning our air. Much of the invasive spread comes from people who are innocently, yet harmfully enjoying the outdoors and all that it has to offer. Thoroughly cleaning gear, equipment, clothing and pets that accompany us for outdoor activities is a small and easy task that will have a lasting impact on North Carolina’s forestland. Choosing to buy firewood where you burn it is a simple solution to a growing problem. The N.C. Forest Service is also prioritizing this effort now and for the foreseeable future. One goal identified in the recently updated North Carolina Forest Action Plan is to minimize negative impacts to forest health caused by major, locally significant or imminent insects, diseases and non-native invasive plants. These collective efforts will help North Carolina continue to practice active and sustainable forest management that ensures healthy, productive and resilient forests for future generations.

To learn more about forest health in North Carolina, visit www.ncforestservice.gov/forest_health/forest_health.htm.

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