Top 25 things vanishing from America: #17 -- The ash tree


This series explores aspects of America that may soon be just a memory -- some to be missed, some gladly left behind. From the least impactful to the most, here are 25 bits of vanishing America.

When the collateral costs of an increasingly global marketplace are counted, it is usually the image of the displaced factory worker that comes to mind. But not all the casualties have human faces. Some seven billion ash trees stand to go the way of the American elm and American chestnut, victims of living weapons of mass destruction dispatched unintentionally on the contrails of globalization.

In the early decades of the twentieth century, the American chestnut was practically eradicated by chestnut blight, caused by fungus from imported Asiatic chestnut trees. In the 1960s and 70s, hundreds of millions of elms were lost to Dutch Elm disease, a fungus accidentally imported to North America in logs shipped from the Netherlands for use in furniture.

In the late 1990s, a pretty, irridescent green species of beetle, now known as the emerald ash borer, hitched a ride to North America with ash wood products imported from eastern Asia. In less than a decade, its larvae have killed millions of trees in the midwest, and continue to spread. The destruction of a native species is an environmental disaster, of course, with far-reaching effects on the entire ecosystem. But the emerald ash borer is also boring into a significant economic and industrial resource, for the U.S. Ash is a strong and highly resilient hardwood, used for tool handles and sports equipment. Snooker players and guitar heroes will also be affected if the preferred wood for their respective instruments becomes extinct. Ash also has extensive application as veneer for office furniture.

In areas of the country at risk for infestation, public awareness programs, such as tell people how to identify the pest, report it, and help slow its spread. Let's hope the ash doesn't go the way of the chestnut and elm.

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