A vicious intruder is making its way to Orange County.
The tree-killing emerald ash borer has been found as close as 30 miles away in Person, Vance and Granville counties in recent months, said Robert Trickel, the head of the Forest Health Branch of the N.C. Forest Service.
This unwelcome guest appeared last week in Warren County, which is about 70 miles northeast of Orange County, Trickel said.
Trickel said the arrival of this beetle in Orange County is unavoidable.
“It is imminent,” he said. “It is a beetle that is hard to find. It moves kind of quickly.”
The beetle infects ash trees by laying the eggs of its larvae inside the tree, said Kelly Oten, a forest health specialist with the N.C. Forest Service. Within a few years, the entire tree dies.
“They kill trees. It’s pretty straightforward,” she said. “They are capable of killing all four types of ash trees in North Carolina.”
These beetles have been found in 22 states and are continuing to spread, she said.
“Like all insects they are capable of dispersing,” Oten said. “The adult beetles are capable of flight. The other way the insect can spread is if people move firewood that they do not know has the beetle.”
All four affected counties — along with the entire state of Virginia — are under a wood quarantine.
“Any ash logs or wood cannot be moved out of those areas without going through a process with the Department of Agriculture,” Trickel said.
But there is hope for the ash trees of North Carolina.
“You really should start managing or doing work when the beetles are anywhere from 15 to 30 miles away,” Trickel said. “(The bugs are) 15 to 20 miles from Orange County.”
Curtis Brooks, an urban forester for the Chapel Hill Public Works Department, said few trees in town will be affected.
“Ash trees are native species that are quite common in wooded areas but have rarely been planted in the Chapel Hill area,” Brooks said in an email.
The forest health experts are already waging war on the invaders.
Both Oten and Trickel said chemicals can be used to prevent the future invasion of the beetles and help infected trees.
Last Thursday, the forest service released 900 wasps capable of killing the emerald ash borer in Granville County.
Individual landowners are encouraged to treat as many trees as possible.
The N.C. Forest Service or a local forest ranger can be contacted if a tree becomes infected.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.