A Bug That Eats Baseball Bats

New York Times, August 29th, 2016


The emerald ash borer is a luminescent green insect that probably arrived in the Detroit area more than 15 years ago. These small Asian beetles, possibly coming to this country on wooden packing materials, have been devouring millions of ash trees as they eat their way from Michigan across the Midwest.

In recent years, the pests have also moved into the forests of New York, where experts believe they have infected 130 million ash trees within about six million acres of forest. By any standard, this is a plague, reminiscent of the Dutch elm disease or the voracious gypsy moth.

New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation has worked hard to quarantine the ash borer menace. Until scientists find a way to defeat this insect — for example, with a wasp that eats the borer (researchers are trying to corral two types of predatory wasps) or a safe insecticide — the only real answer is to keep diseased lumber, wood chips or logs from coming out of infected areas and to cut down ash trees around an infected patch.

The battle against the borer has been costly for the state and for communities that must deal with limbs falling from dead trees. And federal money to fight invasive species is routinely rerouted to fight forest fires in the West. Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, wants Congress to provide a separate disaster fund for these forest fires so that there is sufficient money for the Forest Service to fight invasive species. Mr. Schumer’s funding plan deserves support.

The disappearance of white ash trees would be devastating for the ecosystem of Northeastern forests. It would also spell trouble for baseball: White ash was the classic wood for bats for years. Some major leaguers have opted for maple or other woods for their favorite bats, but about 25 percent of bats are still made of white ash.

Ron Vander Groef, manager of the Rawlings bat factory near Albany, told NPR that if the ash borer is not controlled, “We will not be able to make any more pro bats or retail bats or anything out of white ash because it will be gone.” That would be a tragedy, and not just for lovers of the white ash baseball bat.

About Suzi

No more wandering in the Hudson Valley. I have achieved my dream, it was a long time working toward it, but now I am here, living in NYC. My dream, my goal, my purpose in life. View all posts by Suzi

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