Emerald Ash Borer invades Smoky Mountains, threatening ash trees

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WVLT/AP) -- The destructive emerald ash borer has been found in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In a news release sent Thursday, park management stated the beetles were discovered last week in traps at the Sugarlands Visitor Center and in the Greenbrier area -- both on the Tennessee side of the 500,000-acre park on the North Carolina border. A U.S. Department of Agriculture entomologist confirmed the discovery.

The insect was first found in Michigan in 2002 and has damaged millions of ash trees as its range spread.

“Protecting the park’s biodiversity is of the utmost importance,” says Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.” We will carefully consider all options available to us before determining the best course of action in dealing with this invasive species.”

Biologists said the pest lays eggs in bark crevices of all species of ash. As the eggs hatch, the larvae burrow into the tree, creating tunnels that block the tree's ability to pull up fluids and nutrients. The tree gradually starves and dies.

Since the borers typically travel in infested logs and firewood, park officials are reminding visitors a park-wide ban remains in effect for firewood coming from quarantined regions of the country. (see the full list here)

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