Larry Haigh adjusts the height of his drain lines as he taps trees near Bellevue, Mich. The state usually ranks fifth nationally in maple syrup production at 90,000 gallons per year from commercial and hobby producers. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing— It’s good news for maple syrup producers. Michigan is gearing up to battle a pest that is laying waste to trees around Cincinnati and looms as a danger in this state — the Asian longhorned beetle.
The white-specked black bug drills and destroys hardwoods, including maple trees, said Keith Creagh, director of the state Department of Natural Resources.
“They like maple trees and we’re trying to keep them away,” said Larry Haigh of Bellevue, president of the Michigan Maple Syrup Association. “They could do as much damage as the emerald ash borer.”
The ash borer, which spread across the eastern one-third of the country, including Michigan, is the most destructive pest ever seen in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Gov. Rick Snyder used his State of the State address Thursday to pledge state money in 2015 to battle these beetles and other foreign invaders endangering Michigan tree, farm and tourism businesses.
“We’ve got a lot of maple trees in our state, folks,” Snyder said. “We shouldn’t be sitting around and waiting. Let’s do something about it.”
The beetle is a $41 billion threat to maple syrup, forestry, fruit and travel industries across the nation, the USDA has estimated.
And it’s not very far from Michigan. While Snyder mentioned the Cincinnati area, which has lost more than 10,000 trees, Asian longhorned beetles also are being fought in Chicago.
Through a massive program that includes cutting trees and spreading insecticide, that city has contained an infestation discovered in 1998 in its Ravenswood community. Chicago lost 400-500 trees.
After Snyder’s speech, Creagh showed attendees a plastic-encased beetle he carried in a coat pocket. With a body length of about ¾ to 1 ½ inches long, the bug’s antennae sweeps from its head to its end.
The DNR director said Snyder’s proposal gives Michigan a shot at avoiding a level of destruction comparable to that in the Cincinnati area.
While Snyder didn’t say how much he wants to spend — that will come in his early-February state budget presentation, he said — the Asian beetle effort will hinge on early detection, close inspection of foreign shipping containers and public education, Creagh said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture already inspects containers for pests that might harm traditional farm crops, said DNR press secretary Ed Golder. The state will help broaden the effort to include surveillance for other invaders, he said.
Creagh said he also plans to create an easy-to-use website and/or software application Michigan residents can use to report any invasive species they encounter in their daily rounds.
The Asian longhorned beetle, native to Japan, Korea and China, probably arrived in the United States in the early 1990s in a shipping crate, according to the USDA.
Michigan usually ranks fifth nationally in maple syrup production at 90,000 gallons per year from 500 commercial producers and 2,000 hobby/home-use producers.
Haigh, who is a producer, attended a national meeting in Worcester, Mass., where he surveyed damage from an Asian longhorned beetle infestation covering 100 square miles a few years ago. Now, the infestation covers 181 square miles, he said.
By acting promptly, Creagh said, Michigan has a better shot at stopping the Asian longhorned beetle than it did against the ash borer. “With the emerald ash borer, we were three-to-five years behind the infestation,” he said.
Snyder said the battle against foreign environmental invaders will be broad and will include Asian carp and Eurasian watermilfoil. The watermilfoil is a feathery plant once sold as an aquarium decoration, that grows in dense mats and crowds out other water plants.