Thursday, July 24, 2014

Emerald Ash Borer Finally in Baltimore, Relieving No One

Emerald Ash Borer trap.
Photo: Fairfax County Gov't
I suppose if I had been in charge of the Emerald Ash Borer beetle traps in Baltimore City parks for the last decade, I'll feel like quite the loser.  Not one bug in one trap in 11 years.   According to the Baltimore Tree Trust, that has now changed, with Baltimore City Parks and Recreation reporting that in the last month, the pesky Asian invaders have been caught in traps in two separate parks, miles apart.   To have not found a single insect in this bustling city of 700,000 people, rail, highway, and marine shipping in the last decade is actually a great accomplishment, not a failure.  However, nor was it a prevention.  And the City, known largely for our internationally significant rat population and of course, The Wire, now has a new pest.

Emerald Ash Borer damage.  Photo: Purdue University
Department of Entomology
According to Maryland DNR, a hefty population of Emerald Ash Borers arrived in Michigan, from Asia, in 2002. American ash trees - we have two species - have no immunity to the little green beetle, and it shows.  Our hardy ash trees - planted in many Maryland communities (300,000 in Baltimore alone, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun) after Dutch Elm disease destroyed America's favorite street tree - sat waiting for the Emerald Ash Borer to arrive.   And it didn't take long.   Maryland Department of Agriculture notes that a shipment of infested ash trees arrived in 2003 from Michigan.  By 2012, the beetles were destroying trees in nine Maryland counties.  In 2014, we're at nine counties plus Baltimore City.

The story of how the insect even arrived in Maryland illustrates why the United States has eradicated exactly zero invasive species, despite a century of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars spent trying to achieve just one complete removal.   According to Maryland DNR, the initial infested shipment into Maryland occurred when a nurseryman, fearful of the Ash Borer known to be ravaging Michigan, ordered a supply of native ash trees from a nursery in Tennessee.  Unbeknownst to him, his supply used remote "drop shipping," asking a wholesale supplier in Michigan to send the ash trees directly out of the Ash Borer's infestation area and into Maryland.   A plant inspector for the Maryland Department of Agriculture found the beetles, but it was too late - most of them had already left the DC-area nursery already.

Urban....forest?
Photo: Aldertree Garden
As scientists and citizens continue to try to understand what the most important values of urban forests can or should be, this latest infestation illustrates what we all try to ignore.  The swaths of low quality maple, ash, and willow trees, low-slung and half alive throughout our City parks, engulfed by invasive English Ivy, Chinese Multiflora Rose, French Wineberry and Japanese Knotweed....this is hardly "forest" at all.  These places are the last refuge for our urban wildlife, and a "green" place in which children can play - as long as they don't touch the contaminated water running through our degraded "streams,"  or the thousands of tons of illegally dumped trash that the City's unlikely to ever remove.  Or the millions of gallons of undetected, leaking sewage in the stream.   And now, the Emerald Ash Borer has arrived to remove 300,000 of our last native trees.

Perhaps it's time to stop holding our collective noses and pretending that "preserving" these areas in their current condition isn't benefiting our natural environment.  The Nature Conservancy, our country's largest conservation non-profit organization, certainly thinks so, and they've been aggressively removing Ash trees from their properties in the "Emerald Ash Borer zone."   Maybe we shouldn't count on an invasive species not happening again.  Maybe just pretending that "a tree is a tree" isn't working anymore.   Maybe it's time to fix our streams and plant resilient forests that will serve the next generation of Baltimore residents. Who's with me?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Big Water, Big Fly Tackle....Big Waves?

I finally got my new 8wt TFO rigged up and decided to hit the beach, literally.  Arrived at sunrise to look for small, breaking rockfish on the tide change and what were predicted to be slack winds and glassy water.  

Actual conditions were 10-15kt SE winds with 1-2' waves.  Water was boiling and turbid.   Didn't see or hook a single fish, but slinging around big flies from a big rod is usually fun anyway.  I gave it about a solid hour, mostly fishing a break inbetween the tip of a jetty and a stone breakwater 30 yards past it, and didn't detect the slightest part of fishiness.

Luckily, had my freshwater gear in the car and called fishing buddy Joe to hit the property's brackish "impoundment," really, a semi-occluded pond, for those of you keeping score at home.   Tried to throw big flies from the big rod, but shoreline trees weren't amenable to it.

Got to have a nap on the beach, some good shop talk with Joe (a habitat restoration guy, like myself), and overall a pretty zen way to start a workday.  Popped into the office at 9:01am with a good head on my shoulders.   But next time, I'll check the marine forecast data myself.  And bring the kayak.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Small Wave Catharsis

Made a last minute trip back to Tidewater, VA recently.  Busy, busy with the job (new director starting and I remain in the #2 seat), and with ye olde obligations (brakes, tires, rats in the garden, blown AC circuit at the house, etc).   But my parents are selling the house where I grew up, and so I came home.   So many memories surrounding all of that - a story saved for another day - that it was total catharsis to be in the surf in my old hometown with my son.   Blessings abound, and what not.






Thursday, July 17, 2014

To Trap A Rat

A trap of any kind is a glorious thing.  Its successful use requires planning, curiosity, cunning, and to varying extents, hatred. The trap's operator desires more than anything to stop the way his quarry moves, lives, and eats.

A rat trap is no different from any other trap.  Norway rats, imported onto this continent by accident three hundred years ago, have behavior patterns both in space and time that they obey nearly religiously.  In theory, the understanding of those patterns of behavior make it easy to trap a rat.  In reality, every trap laid by a would-be killer is a disturbance in the spatial pattern of the rats' environment.

Bait that is different from the detritus they're currently eating.   A large bait-holding platform, hidden under a wildflower just a few steps away from the rats' main trail.   Understanding rat patterning and movement will often kill a hefty number of six month old rats.  But not the helpless babies - nature's future guarantee for an ample supply of the furry vermin. And not the dominant adults in the rat pack - for they know a trap.  In my own garden I've retrieved hastily, painfully chewed off feet and tails that had barely snagged the mammals.

A rat cannot help but see and smell a new trap.  The shiny varnish on the wood plates.  The clean and shiny metal snapping mechanism. But a rat can be fooled by what he thinks is familiarity - rancid bait, crawling with ants.  Metal rusted from the humid climate.  Wood dry-rotted by the Mid-Atlantic sun. The rat knows better, but allows his pride, fed by that false familiarity with the materials in front of him, to control his thoughts, his movements, and his desire.  He forgets that what he does, no matter how familiar, might have consequences he cannot bear. In that forgetfulness is the trap's beauty and strength.