Tennessee is one of America’s greenest states — literally. It is still more than 50 percent forested. In fact, much of the majestic beauty that defines Tennessee comes from its trees. Our trees provide habitats for animals, nesting for birds and shading for our homes.
They are also under attack. Tennessee’s beautiful trees are appetizing to many foreign pests that are making new homes in our state. Even though the extreme cold took care of a number of these insects, it wasn’t cold enough or long enough to really have an impact. And we can’t count on a polar vortex every year. We have to rely on ourselves if we are going to preserve one of our state’s greatest assets. These pests come with odd names and ravenous appetites: The Asian longhorn beetle, emerald ash borer, gypsy moth and walnut twig beetle. They infest and kill our beloved Tennessee foliage. They eat away tree trunks, damage leaves, carry fungal diseases, and they deliver a huge hit to our state’s economy. These aggressive insects are growing in number and impact. The emerald ash borer burrows into the wood beneath the bark, creating tunnels, leaving trees wilting and lifeless. The gypsy moth is a scary pest because it can devour the leaves of more than 300 species of trees and shrubs. The walnut twig beetle, no bigger than a grain of rice, tunnels into trees, introducing a deadly fungus. The Asian longhorn beetle hasn’t been found in Tennessee yet, but we need to be on the lookout for this pest that digs into the trunks of trees, causing serious damage in large numbers. All of these pests kill trees, and together they kill our trees by the thousands. The economic repercussions, especially in urban areas, are sobering. The 284 million urban trees in Tennessee provide an estimated $639 million in services. That is a substantial economic impact to our state and a fundamental reason why Tennesseans should care. Many Americans do not realize how important trees are in urban areas. About 82 percent of all Americans live in cities, and in Tennessee, the urban population is 66 percent and growing. Urban trees reduce pollutants, cool the air, clean and maintain water supplies and protect residents from storms. These services reduce costs to cities and their residents with every healthy tree. For the couple trying to sell their first home, trees increase property value up to 10 percent. For the family with a high utility bill, trees reduce cooling costs up to 20 percent. For any homeowner with a flood problem, trees reduce storm water runoff. Overall, with every tree killed, the state loses $2.25 in services. That adds up fast. This is where we need your help. Because these pests hitchhike long distances on firewood, buy firewood within 50 miles of where you will burn it or buy certified, heat-treated firewood. Be aware of these infestations, identify the pests and report any sightings. Early detection enables quick intervention and a real chance at eliminating a pest from an area before it becomes too established. The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, U.S. Department of Agriculture and University of Tennessee created a new program: “Healthy Trees, Healthy Tennessee.” This program encourages communities across the state to participate in pest detection, tree health monitoring and tree planting. It even has a smartphone app so you can conveniently identify and report any pest outbreaks. The smartphone app “SEEDN” (Southeast Early Detection Network) can be downloaded for free from the iTunes App Store and Google Play. If you do not have a smartphone, you can report a pest infestation by calling (615) 837-5520 or by emailing ProtectTNForests@tn.gov. Our trees sustain our communities in many ways, and now it is our community’s turn to sustain them. Report any suspicious tree damage you see and help us keep the pests at bay.
Guest columnist Alex Wyss is the director of conservation programs for The Nature Conservancy in Tennessee. He lives near Nashville and has worked for the Conservancy since 1999. The Conservancy is an environmental nonprofit organization; read more at http://www.nature.org/about-us/.