When the Emerald Ash Borer first made its way to US soil from Asia in the 1990s, it hardly registered among scientists or in the news—where it came from, after all, it only feasted on weak and dying ash trees. But the tiny beetle smaller than a penny quickly proved to be invasive here, where ash trees have not evolved to protect themselves from its ravenous appetite—it's claimed 30 million trees across 26 states and counting, reports AFP. The situation is so dire it's "bordering on catastrophic," one Michigan scientist tells NPR, which profiles the bug's impact on the Rawlings plant in New York state, where iconic Rawlings baseball bats have been made for more than a century. Most of those are made of ash, which sluggers like because they don't shatter as easily as bats of other wood.
"If the ash borer is not controlled, it'll wipe out the entire species of white ash," plant manager Vander Groef says. The problem is that figuring out remedies is still in the early stages, and he predicts the plant's ash supply will be gone or unaffordable in three years. The US Forest Service has equally grim news, saying few if any ash trees will survive in infested areas and labeling the beetle "the most devastating forest insect to reach North America in modern times." A new pesticide may help attack the beetle's larvae, but it's expensive and likely not fast enough. St. Louis, for example, is preparing to cut down almost all of the city's 14,000 ash trees, or 17% of the city's tree population. "We really have no other choice," says a forestry official. (These wasps might help.)