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Bring in the Wasps

To stop emerald ash borers, you’ve got to think like a bug

To stop a thief, you’ve got to think like a thief. To stop a bug, you’ve got to get more basic.
    That’s what Maryland Department of Agriculture has learned in its 10-year effort to stop the inexorable march of the emerald ash borer.
    In the early years of the 21st century, Agrilus planipennis escaped from China, likely stowed away in a pallet in the hull of a cargo ship bound for the Great Lakes. Since then, the insect has gnawed its way through America’s heartland.
    In 2003, it appeared in Maryland, its telltale D-shaped burrow hole detected by a sharp-eyed Maryland plant inspector in ash trees on the back lot of a nursery in Brandywine. One hundred-twenty-one ash trees had been shipped from Michigan, ground zero of the invasion.
    Forestry managers scrambled, drawing a circle of containment and felling every ash tree — 11,000 in all — within its circumference.
    All of Prince George’s County went under ash quarantine. Sentinel trees were planted and inspected. Public information campaigns begged campers to buy firewood at their destination lest they unwittingly aided the invasion.
    Still, the circle of containment spread. And spread.
    Last year, State Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance quarantined all 14 counties west of the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River, making it illegal for Marylanders to move firewood to the Eastern Shore, which so far has escaped invasion.
    At the same time, Maryland forces extended their attack from tree to bug. The weapon: oobius parasitoid. Last year, the tiny stingless wasps were released into infested areas. Alas, the adult predators did not travel well.
    So this year, Maryland defenders have bored deeper into bug-think. This week — designated by Gov. Martin O’Malley as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week — the first of 16,000 biocontrol agents will be released as larvae inside emerald ash borer eggs laid on ash wood twigs.
    The twigs will be covered in Solo cups to protect them from predators. When they hatch, or so the plan goes, the wasps will take off into infested areas and lay their eggs in the eggs of the ash borer, destroying the borers before birth. We’re the eighth state to counter-attack with wasps.
    The campaign begins in Anne Arundel Charles, Howard and Prince George’s counties. Next month it extends to Washington and Allegany counties.
    It’s a strategy we should keep in our prayers. The emerald ash borer has, so far, extended its American range to 15 states.
    Follow the campaign at