The immigrants we don’t want

In all the battles over the Arizona legislation, and other posturing, there’s another set of immigrants which have often been ignored.  They cause inordinate damage to local economies, destroy our resources, and cost huge sums to monitor and control.  What are they?  They’re not human, they’re plants and animals – Invasive species. I’ve been getting an up-close and personal look at the damage they can do over the past few years.

Several years ago, when I moved back into the Adirondacks, it looked pretty much the same as it always had.  A few years later, I began to notice something – beech trees were dying.

This is a healthy tree:                                                 But this is what is more common:

What is it?  This is Beech Bark Disease.  It’s caused by an introduced insect, the  beech scale insect.   By itself, the insect is a nuisance, but what else it carries along is what does the damage.  One of two fungi – Nectria coccinea and Nectria galligena. These fungi enter through the wound caused by the insect, and eventually weaken and  kill the tree.  The good news, such as it is?  Some trees appear to be resistant to the fungi.   Not many, but here and there in a diseased stand of beech trees,  you can see a few healthy ones. In time, the healthy ones will reseed the area, and the new generation of beech trees will be resistant to the disease.

The bad news is that that process is going to take 100 to 150 years.   What’s the big deal?  Beech trees are more known to urban and suburban dwellers as ornamental shade trees.  They produce a lot of leaves and shade.  But in a forest, they do something else.  They produce nuts – if you ever wondered where the trademark “Beech Nut” came from, it’s actually from a real thing.  They’re not often used by humans (although they are tasty), but as a “mast crop,” they’re a very important fall food for squirrels, deer, and bears.   For the most part around here, that’s gone now, and it’ll be a long time coming back.

It wasn’t that long ago,  that I could walk through the forests around here and see huge beech trees, and lots of beeches in between.  One of the small pleasures was trying to beat the squirrels and other animals to the nuts in the fall.  In less than a decade, I can’t do that any more.  Most of the beeches are dead, or dying – and they’re not producing.  All because of an insect that’s almost too small to see, that’s some place it shouldn’t be.  Yes, it was that fast, and the children born today will never know the forests I saw – but their grandchildren or great-grandchildren might.

This is just one of a number of immigrants that have arrived on our shore – and they’re the ones we don’t want.

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