Mi’kmaw communities in New Brunswick are on the lookout this summer for an invasive beetle that threatens a species of tree significant to the Mi’kmaq’s culture and economy.
Teams from each of the province’s nine Mi’kmaw communities started last week to put out traps to detect the presence of the emerald ash borer, said Stephen Ginnish, a forester and natural resources co-ordinator for Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc.
“We have traps set up in the community now and hopefully we don’t find any beetles, but at least now we’re part of the monitoring system,” Ginnish said.
The emerald ash borer was first introduced to Canada in 2002 and has since decimated populations of ash trees in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec, before being detected in New Brunswick, where it was found in Edmundston in 2018. It’s since been found in Oromocto, Moncton and Fredericton.
Significant for spirituality, arts, economy
Ginnish said he’s been worried for 20 years about the beetle reaching forests in New Brunswick and destroying black and white ash trees, which are used for ceremonial events, and to make baskets, sculptures and other Mi’kmaw arts and crafts.
“We have a lot of basket-makers and they’re really concerned … about the survival of the ash, even though we know that this particular beetle will most likely wipe it out because there’s really no defence for it yet.”
Ginnish said he sees the arrival of the emerald ash borer in the province as another lasting effect of colonization that has impacted the way of life for First Nation communities.
Now, he said, the First Nation is considering options, such as cold-storing ash tree seeds so that the species can be reintroduced to the land once the emerald ash borer wipes out the trees that now stand.
“Right now, it is that perception that it’s going to … wiped away, and our generations down the road are not going to know what it’s like to be part of a custom or an economy where black ash trees were used to provide sustenance to our community.”
Monitoring new regions in N.B. this summer
Mi’kmaw communities are just some of the areas that are being monitored for the first time this year, said Ron Neville, a plant health survey biologist with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
Aside from those northeastern regions of New Brunswick, southern and southwestern areas, particularly around Saint John, are also now being monitored for the emerald ash borer, he said.
“We focused our surveillance in those portions of the province where the [emerald ash borer] is not known to occur,” Neville said about this summer’s monitoring program.
“So you know, counties like Restigouche, Northumberland, Gloucester and Kent — we have traps in those counties.
“And then we’re also focusing trapping down in the southwest around Saint John and also in Charlotte County.”
No tickets recently for moving firewood
Neville said the main way the beetle is tracked is by hanging traps in trees in late June and early July, and checking them at the end of July.
Neville said the emerald ash borer usually gets into new areas when people move items such as firewood, not knowing they’ve been infested by the insect.
According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, moving firewood from places where regulated pests have been found can be a violation of the Plant Protection Act, with penalties of up to $50,000. However, no tickets have been issued in relation to moving firewood in New Brunswick since 2019, an agency spokesperson said.
Neville said enforcement can be difficult, and so the inspection agency has relied more heavily on education through awareness campaigns.
“I know that [the campaigns] have an effect. I know that people are more aware of these things now than they ever were, which I think is a positive thing.”
Meanwhile, tools are being used to try to either protect trees or slow the spread of the emerald ash borer.
The City of Fredericton, for instance, has been inoculating some ash trees against the emerald ash borer by injecting the trees with a pesticide known as TreeAzin.
And in Edmundston, between 500 and 1,000 mite wasps were released in the area in the summer of 2019. The wasps, which are harmless to humans, feed on the eggs and the larvae of the emerald ash borer.
Despite those efforts, Neville said, there isn’t a silver bullet for getting rid of the emerald ash borer, and for now, those measures only slow the spread.
“Unfortunately there’s no, you know, really great effective strategy or mechanism to really protect us from this pest, and that’s why taking measures to try and slow its spread are really important because it … gives the scientists more time to develop these strategies and hopefully find a way to have more success over the beetle in the future.”