State confirms emerald ash borer has spread to northern Charles Co.

The Baltimore Sun

The Maryland Department of Agriculture has confirmed the spread of a voracious ash tree-killing beetle to a wooded region of northern Charles County.

Previously, the pest, commonly called the emerald ash borer, had been limited to a site south of Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County. In recent years, the beetle has been blamed for the destruction of 25 million ash trees, including about 25,000 in Maryland.

The latest detection is in a wooded area of Charles County just over the border from Prince George's.

The state has moved quickly to control the spread of the beetles, which resemble grasshoppers and are about a half-inch long and one-sixteenth of an inch wide.

Agriculture Secretary Roger L. Richardson said the department has initiated a quarantine that prohibits anyone from moving ash trees or any hardwood firewood out of Prince George's and Charles counties.

A similar quarantine was put in place in Prince George's County several years ago.

Emerald ash borers attack only ash trees, the most common landscaping tree in the nation and one of the most common trees in Western Maryland forests.

The trees are popular with landscape architects and there are nearly 300,000 planted in Baltimore and about 6 million in the metropolitan area.

Ash wood has various uses. It is used in the production of baseball bats, flooring and cabinets.

The exotic beetle was first discovered in Maryland in 2003 at a nursery in Prince George's County. Agriculture officials say they believe the beetle hitched a ride on a shipment of trees from Michigan, in violation of a quarantine on the movement of trees out of that state.

Pest management officials with the state Department of Agriculture moved aggressively to cut down and burn ash trees within a half-mile radius of the infested site in Prince George's County.

After destroying about 500 trees, the department planted about 100 sentinel ash trees throughout the region. Those trees served as bait to attract any beetles in the area.

For three years, things looked pretty good in the state. But in the summer of 2006, the emerald ash borer was detected again in Prince George's County test trees.

Crews from the department moved quickly into the woods with chain saws and cut down about 25,000 trees in a 21-square-mile swath of the county.

Concerning the latest outbreak, Carol Holko, a plant protection and weed management program manager at the state Department of Agriculture, said the agency was still assessing the situation and was sending samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in hopes of determining the age of the infestation.

Holko said the department was conducting a survey in the region to get a better idea of how widespread the infestation is. The department is also assembling a team to work with the USDA's Emerald Ash Borer Science Panel and Management Team to determine a course of action.

The state has called on residents of Prince George's and Charles counties, along with people who travel through the counties, to help stop the spread of the damaging beetle. It is asking that residents not move firewood out of the region, but to buy it where you burn it. Hauling firewood is the most common way of moving plant pests from one region to another.

In addition, the state quarantine prohibits moving hardwood firewood or any other ash tree materials out of the quarantined counties.

Other requests include:

* Don't plant ash trees in the southern half of Prince George's County or the northern half of Charles County. While people can still legally plant ash trees in other parts of the counties, the department suggests planting alternate tree species for residential landscaping.

* Report any signs of the emerald ash borer to the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 800-342-2507 or to the state Department of Agriculture at 410-841-5920.

The presence of the emerald ash borer typically goes undetected until trees show symptoms. One of the first signs of an infestation is the yellowing of leaves. The branches on the top third of the tree die first. The tree usually dies in two or three years.

The beetle usually leaves a D-shaped hole in the bark and shoots begin to grow from the base of the tree.

Woodpeckers have an appetite for the beetle larvae, and heavy woodpecker damage to a tree can be a sign of infestation.

The beetle is believed to have made its way from Asia to Michigan on wooden packaging materials carried on cargo planes.

Other major beetle infestations have been found in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Windsor, Ontario.

Reaping more net income

Despite weather damage to crops in Maryland and other parts of the country, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reporting that farmers will be banking more money this year than ever before.

Net farm income is forecast to be a record $95.7 billion this year, an increase of 10 percent over what farmers earned in 2007.

This year's payout is expected to be about 57 percent above the 10-year average of $61.1 billion.

Net cash income, at $101.3 billion, is forecast to be 16 percent above 2007, which was the previous record.

Net cash income is projected to rise more than net farm income because of the carryover of 2007 crops being sold in 2008. Net cash income is a farmer's income minus production costs and depreciation of equipment.

The value of crop production ($188.8 billion) is forecast to exceed the 2007 record by $38 billion, a 25 percent increase.

Prices of major crops (corn, soybeans, wheat) were rising in late 2007 and have sustained that momentum this year, the USDA reported.

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