USDA rolling back emerald ash borer regulations

Emerald Ash Borer tree
Posted at 6:07 AM, Dec 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-18 08:25:27-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — This week, federal officials announced they are rolling back restrictions that were put in place to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that destroys ash trees.

The invasive insect was first identified in Michigan in 2002. Since then, it has spread through much of the Eastern United States. The first emerald ash borer in Davidson County was found in 2016.

"It is attacking all of our native ash," Andrew Bell, the executive director of the Nashville Tree Foundation, said.

Because the insect destroys the trees, ash trees must be removed to prevent them from becoming a hazard. The process could end up costing local governments millions of dollars.

"I came to Nashville from Chicago, and it really bankrupted the cities and municipalities around the Chicago region from having to remove all the ash," Bell said.

Bell said the Davidson County area will begin seeing increasing impacts from the emerald ash borer this year.

This week, the USDA announced it will change how it deals with the invasive beetle. Currently, ash wood is quarantined and cannot be moved from an area that has the emerald ash borer to areas without the insect. The rule focuses on firewood and other commercial operations, and has had a unique impact on Tennessee because the most recent quarantine map cuts a line though the mid-state.

"Davidson County is in the quarantine, but Cheatham County just to our west is not," Bell explained.

The federal agency plans to get rid of the quarantine plan, saying it was ineffective at slowing the spread of the beetle. More than 100 people commented on the rule change, with the majority of them opposing the move. Critics worry the rollback could increase the emerald ash borers range.

Bell, on the other hand, said the quarantine wasn't very effective.

"It might buy you a little bit of time, but I don't know how big of an impact it had ultimately," he said, adding that the emerald ash borer can migrate on its own, as well.

So Bell hopes the change will mean more help for areas struggling with the invasive insect.

"The best plan moving forward on a federal level is to provide resources and funds for local municipalities to help with the removal of ash."

Tennessee's state-level quarantine program is still in effect but will be reviewed. A Tennessee Department of Agriculture spokesperson told NewsChannel 5, "At this time, Tennessee has not made a decision on whether we will repeal or continue quarantine requirements. We expect to make a decision in the upcoming months."

For details on Tennessee's quarantine requirements, visit the Tennessee Department of Agriculture website.