A destructive pest has now spread in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Officials announced Wednesday that they had confirmed an infestation of the emerald ash borer (EAB) in the backcountry.
According to Park Biologist, Glenn Taylor, "The emerald ash borer is a 1/2 inch-long metallic green beetle that lays eggs on the bark on all species of ash trees. After hatching, the EAB larvae burrow under the bark, and create feeding tunnels that cut off nutrient and water flow to the tree. The tree can die in three to five years."
The bug was brought to the U.S. from Asia, and was first discovered in southeast Michigan in 2002. It has spread to 16 states and two Canadian provinces, killing tens of millions of ash trees along the way.
Several East Tennessee counties are under a firewood quarantine, in an effort to stop the spread of the bugs. It is recommended that visitors to the Smokies buy their firewood when they get to the park to prevent bringing the bugs in from outside.
Since 2009, officials have been monitoring for the presence of EAB. Front country infestations were confirmed in June 2012 at Sugarlands Visitor Center and at the Greenbrier entrance to the Park.
An off-duty park employee discovered the backcountry infestation on Injun Creek Trail in the Greenbrier area on November 8, 2012. The employee noticed a pile of bark chips at the base of several ash trees. Signs of woodpecker activity on ash trees is an excellent indicator of an EAB infestation. Paul Merten, a forest insect specialist from the USDA Forest Service in Asheville, NC, confirmed EAB at the site by looking under ash tree bark for feeding tunnels left by the immature beetle. "The infestation is well established, probably two years old or older," Merten said.
The park has a management plan to protect the ash trees, but it is impossible to completely get rid of them.