Minnesota Twins reserve catcher Mike Redmond’s latest pitch is to save nearly 1 billion ash trees in Minnesota.
The state, which ranks No. 3 in the U.S. in the number of ash trees, needs all the help it can get to stop the trees from being killed by the emerald ash borer, a predatory beetle from Asia.
Redmond, an aficionado of baseball bats made from ash wood, has partnered with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) as the voice-talent on 15- and- 30-second radio ads that just began airing on Twins games and Minnesota Public Radio.Although he backs up the Twins’ All-Star catcher Joe Mauer, Redmond is the starter in the MDA radio spots, which are part of a don’t-move-the-firewood ad campaign designed to slow the advance of the Asian beetles.
“It just takes one infested load of firewood to cause problems for our forests,” says Redmond in the ad. “So do your part and keep Minnesota’s forests healthy and I’ll do my part to put that ash to good use.”
Alright, so the Twins’ bats haven’t exactly been booming lately. But it’s a good effort.
Mike Schommer, communications director for MDA, says Minnesota received $80,000 in federal funds for the campaign, which will air on radio in addition to online ads on Minnesota Public Radio and Fox 9’s websites.
“The idea here is to get the word out in front of people,” Schommer says. “We want to make sure that this gets out in front of a lot of people (before) people go out and go hunting or camping this fall.”
Minnesota will need luck just to delay the advance of the emerald ash borer, which officials believe has been spread by people hauling firewood to areas with vulnerable stands of ash trees – hence the “Burn it where you buy it” message from the MDA.
Val Cervenka, forest health program director for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), said a mass infestation of the Asian emerald ash borer could be far worse than Dutch Elm Disease, which has caused thousands of the stately trees along city streets to be cut down in the last 30 years.
As it stands, nearly 70 infected ash trees in western St. Paul already have fallen to the ax, and the MDA has hung 1,800 adhesive-covered purple emerald ash borer traps in Minneapolis and St. Paul to see if the beetles have attacked other ash trees in the area.
“It does look that way,” Cervenka says. “Although I kind of hold out a lot of hope, because some ash trees in Michigan have survived.”
Michigan is the epicenter of the emerald ash borer invasion – officials believe the hardy insect arrived there as part of a shipping pallet from eastern Asia. Ash borers are native to China, the Russian Far East, Korea and Japan.
Adult ash borers lay eggs in crevasses in ash tree bark. Larvae burrow into the bark after they hatch, and then eat an ash tree’s water-rich cambium and phloem – essentially cutting off water supply to tree branches within 2 years.
Making discovery more problematic is the burrowing larvae and their deadly effects on the tree, which can’t be noticed until after the damage has been done – leaving tree removal as the only option.
Currently, Minnesota has quarantined firewood movement in the metro-area counties of Hennepin and Ramsey, in addition to Houston County in the southeast corner of the state, which borders Wisconsin and Iowa.
Meanwhile, funding to help halt the emerald ash borer’s advance is being rounded up, as are various public information campaigns designed to prevent firewood movement.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar says Minnesota is scheduled to get federal funding to help slow the emerald ash borer’s spread.
A member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Klobuchar says the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and state officials are working on a plan to fight the ash borer.
Klobuchar says she expects Minnesota to get $770,000 from USDA. About $750,000 of that total would be for survey work, with the rest slated to pay for cutting down infected ash trees.
That money comes from a total of $43.4 million in USDA emergency funds set aside this year for the emerald ash borer eradication program.
In January, USDA approved an initial $15.2 million for the ash borer program through April. In late March, an additional $28.2 million was set aside for ash-borer prevention.
The federal dollars come at a time when a “Don’t move firewood” campaign that first broke in July 2008 was expanding because of tree loss in the Midwest and Northeast.
Its www.dontmovefirewood.org website contains information about the campaign, which was created for the Nature Conservancy and the Continental Dialogue on Non-Native Forest Insects and Diseases.