I’ve proposed a piece on all the “new” invasives threatening our environment to my editor so digging out some old piecs like this one on the dreaded emerald ash borer.
By Bob Quarteroni
“Insects all business all the time,” David Foster Wallace said,” and we’re finding out just how right he was.
For the insects, there’s no such thing as play; It’s always the serious business of eating, eating, eating.
Turns out we’re in extra innings and the ultimate icon of the national pastime is in big – make that bug – trouble.
Can it survive? Let’s look at the combatants.
In one corner, weighing in at about 1/30th of an ounce, is the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect that hitched a ride on – what else – wooden packing material – from Asia into Michigan in 2002.
The EAB loves ash trees, in fact it loves them to death, and it started doing that so effectively that it had munched its way into the Commonwealth by 2007. In exactly a decade, it was chewing away in all 67 counties.
Nobody knows how many millions of ash trees it has killed but it is so widespread that the ash tree is likely to suffer the same fate as the magnificent American chestnut after the ravages of the chestnut blight: “effective extinction,” defined by Wikipedia as “the reduction of a species to such low abundance that…it no longer interacts significantly with other species.”
Bullseye in all this is that beloved icon: The Louisville Slugger, the official bat of Major League Baseball, which has been made exclusively from white ash trees from the strip of land straddling northern Pennsylvania and southern New York known as the Hardwood Belt since 1884.
That was when Hillerich & Bradsby Co. started making superior bats from the wood of the white ash tree, which is unmatched in its ability to not crack under strain.
“The bottom line is that those forests that Louisville Slugger uses to harvest ash and make high-quality bats are being devastated by emerald ash borer over time,” a company spokesman said.
The holy grail aspect of the Slugger cannon be underestimated. Space doesn’t permit even a cursory list of its central spot in baseball but one example is enlightening.
According to Wikipedia, “New York Yankee Derek Jeter used the P72 Louisville Slugger for every at bat in his 20 MLB seasons, with over 12,500 plate appearances.”
According to the Slugger history website, “Louisville Slugger has sold north of 100 million bats – making it, without question, the most popular bat brand in history.”
Especially popular, unfortunately, with the EAB.
So what’s being done to fight this? Well, Pennsylvania has an EAB management plan for communities that is so minimal in scope that it’s not likely to have much impact.
“I still think there’s a lot of ash left, but it’s inevitable — eventually, it seems like all the ash is going to be gone,” Michael Jacobson, professor of forest resources at Penn State, said. “We just haven’t found a way to control it economically.”
As ash is imperiled, major-league baseball players have turned to bats made of maple since 2001, when San Francisco Giants left fielder Barry Bonds used one in breaking the season home run record.
There’s only one problem here: The Asian longhorned beetle.
According to the Nature Conservancy, “It kills a wide variety of hardwood trees, especially maples, elms, willows, and birches.”
So, say bad things about them, but one thing is sure: Aluminum bats are immune to insects.