The best way I know to absolutely kill an otherwise cheerful conversation over cocktails (aside from gross breaches of decorum) is to tell your companions that just about every tree species they know and love is poised to succumb to a devastating plague. Colleagues of mine involved in the desperate fight to halt the spread of invasive pests and pathogens like Emerald Ash Borer and Asian Longhorned Beetle admit that the best, and perhaps only hope we have to to try and get really good at containment of existing infestations, with a robust investment in early detection and rapid response for new outbreaks. All that will do is by time, and we need at least a decade before an effective biological control for the worst pests may be possible with a reasonably good chance that whatever good bug is introduced to eat the bad ones doesn't change its eating habits. It is a slim hope, and real containment is virtually impossible to maintain.
This past week, one of the worst of these pests jumped the fence from outbreaks on Long Island and in New jersey and is now in Central Massachusetts. Asian Longhorned Beetle ( Anoplophora glabripennis) is confirmed in Worcester. Jennifer Foreman Orth of the Invasive Species Weblog is trying to deal with the outbreak in her day job. These beetles kill maple trees. Other preferred host tree species include Elms, Willows, Ash, Poplar...But sugar maple is the prime species at risk. Researchers at UVM put it this way:
"ALB is a serious pest problem in China, where it causes significant economic loss in poplar plantations. So far all ALB infestations in the US have been found in suburban and urban environments. However, in the US where millions of acres of contiguous hardwood forests occur, the impact of ALB is unknown but could be devastating."
In the early 1900s, an introduced fungus virtually eliminated American Chestnut from the forests of the Eastern United States. In mid century, Dutch Elm Disease killed nearly half the mature American Elm trees in America. Both are still with us. Asian Longhorned Beetle has the potential to be the tree killer of our generation.