Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Invasion of the Maple Snatchers

Magazine article Earth Island Journal

Invasion of the Maple Snatchers

Article excerpt

At the turn of the century, the majestic American chestnut tree filled up the eastern forests and supported an entire complex ecosystem. By 1950, a rapidly spreading fungus -- recently traced to a source in Japan -- had virtually wiped out the chestnut. In the 1970s, the elm trees that lined the streets of New York City fell prey to Dutch Elm disease, a plague that spread westward and destroyed two-thirds of the nation's elms. The apparent source of the disease was a single imported log that rode the rails west from New York through Pennsylvania and into Ohio.

Today, scientists are in a panic over the threat to another abundant American tree: the maple. The source of their worries is a small, spotted bug found crawling out of a Brooklyn maple tree. The discovery of the Asian Long Horn Beetle -- brought in this time from China -- has led some scientists to call for a preemptive strike that would cost the borough's streets and parks all of their maple trees. It has also brought home questions about loosening environmental regulations in a time of unrestricted international trade.

More than 800 million trees in New York -- covering 62 percent of the state's 18 million acres of forested land -- are possible targets of the bug. Losses could run into the billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the discovery of the Brooklyn bug presages a much broader threat to America's already-dwindling forests. The Asian Long Horn Beetle is just one of a new wave of invading pests and diseases with names like the Asian gypsy moth and the pine bark beetle and the Mexican canker, brought to American shores in increasing numbers as the result of increased -- and increasingly unregulated -- foreign trade. Many of these exotic insects and fungi are carried on logs that have been cut down by international companies that are searching out wood supplies in the heart of the world's few remaining primal forests. …

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