The Subversive Side of Colonization & The Emerald Ash Tree Borer

Col-o-ni-zation: 1) the action by a plant or animal of establishing itself in a [new] area; 2) the action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use; 3) the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people [or other native species] of an area.

 

AshTree decaying-EastDonRiver

Ash tree decays with help from colonizing blue stain fungus (Photo by Nina Munteanu)

In a previous article, I wrote about how escaped Atlantic salmon from farm pens in the Pacific posed a threat to the wild Pacific salmon. Some argue that these interlopers will outcompete their Pacific cousins for habitat and food like many exotics when they are first introduced (think of Purple loosestrife in Canada).

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Insect bore holes in dead tree (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Purple loosestrife spread rapidly across North America’s wetlands, roadsides and disturbed areas after it was introduced in the 1800s when its seeds were included in soil used as ballast in European sailing ships and discarded here; Purple loosestrife is present in nearly every Canadian province and almost every U.S. state. This plant can produce as many as two million seeds in a growing season, causing dense stands of purple loosestrife and outcompeting native plants for habitat. This results in changes to ecosystem functions such as reductions in nesting sites, shelter and food for the native birds, as well as an overall decline in biodiversity (which causes ecosystem fragility).

What we often forget to consider is the indirect impact of the invasive: disease. What something considered innocuous brings with it. When the Atlantic salmon was brought from its native Atlantic habitat to be farmed in the Pacific (because it grew so fast), it brought its toolkit of adaptations—and what it carried—that was unfamiliar to a vulnerable Pacific wild population. The piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) that makes the Atlantic salmon sick, kills the Pacific native (think how the European settlers inadvertently brought in smallpox that killed thousands of indigenous people in Canada).

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Ash tree succumbs to Agrilus in Rouge Park

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is a “disease” inadvertently brought in by Chinese or Russian traders to North America that is destroying the native ash tree (e.g. green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica; American ash, Fraxinus Americana; Black ash, F.nigra; Blue ash, F. quadrangulata). A native to East Asia, including China and the Russian Far East, the ash borer has no natural predator here. It was likely brought to North America on wood packaging materials in the early 1990s. They were first detected in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario in 2002; and have since spread to more than 30 states and 5 provinces since. Most species of North American ash trees are vulnerable to the beetle, which has already killed millions of trees in Canada in forested and urban areas. No North American natural predators (e.g., woodpeckers, other insects or parasites) have slowed the spread of the emerald ash borer. Up to 99% of all ash trees are killed within 8-10 years once the beetle arrives in the area.

In a note on the text of his small collection of stories entitled “Trees Hate Us” (Odourless Press, 2019) E. Martin Nolan writes on behalf of the Ash tree:

Dying Ash-Patrick ButlerThe Emerald Ash Borer hasn’t a real predator here. Don’t blame it for doing what it does, for being in the crates humans ship across oceans. Killed 30 million in Michigan, where it was first found. It’ll kill clear to the ocean.

I am a living ash. For my own safety, I cannot disclose my name or location. Call me Last Ash. The humans do not understand why I lived. I believe it to be a curse—one I’m prepared to live out. Perhaps I contain a deformity that kills the beetle. Maybe I don’t attract it. Call that evolution. Your words will always be your words.

I have watched all of my kind die around me. Dying gives them the art of poetry. Foreknowledge of death opens their language so a human can hear it. One human. Immune, I am left alone like a city tree, to converse in prose among strange maples, birches, pines and firs reluctant to share speech with a member of so plagued a species. As I live out my natural days, these poems—at least the middle bit—will bring me some small contentment. And we may yet return. The trees’ story is long and slow, despite this lightning-fast shrapnel from the human timeline.

E. Martin NolanE Martin Nolan is a poet, essayist and editor. He edits interviews at The Puritan, where he’s also published numerous essays, interviews and blog posts. He teaches in the Engineering Communication Program at The University of Toronto, and is a PhD Candidate in Applied Linguistics at York University. Born and raised in Detroit, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in English Writing at Loyola University New Orleans, and received his Master’s in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto.