A beetle roughly the size of a penny has the potential to kill every standing ash tree in Western New York.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the emerald ash borer, named for its metallic green color and tendency to bore and tunnel into ash trees, is already responsible for the death or decline of tens of millions of ash trees across the country.
New York state, having a high concentration of ash trees, is indeed an easy target.
On Thursday, members of the Chautauqua County chapter of Cornell Cooperative Extension - an organization that promotes economic vitality, ecological sustainability and social well-being - met with local homeowners, volunteers and city officials at the Frank Bratt Ag Center to discuss the insect and its threat to the community.
Sharon Bachman, a community educator with the organization's Erie County chapter, chaired the meeting and discussed everything from identifying the insect and infested areas to tree treatment and ways of stopping its movement.
"The (goal) is to be proactive," Bachman said. "If (people) have an ash tree on their property, they want to know if (ailing trees) pose a threat to their house, their car, people coming onto their property ... and also to the value of their property. Groups like this come together to increase awareness."
The emerald ash borer is only known to kill ash trees. It kills them by burying its larvae under the tree's bark, and leaving them to feed off the tree. This, in effect, disrupts the tree's ability to transport food and nutrients to its roots, causing the tree to eventually starve to death.
Trees usually die within three to five years of initial infestation.
Since emerald ash borers can easily spread, Bachman warned against moving firewood which might potentially contain insect larvae. She also recommended to visually inspect trees for tell-tale signs of infestation like D-shaped exit holes, bark splits and woodpecker activity.
Although no major infestations have been identified in Chautauqua County, an area in Fredonia is being studied further for a possible one, Bachman said.
The emerald ash borer hails from eastern Asia, and likely reached American shores in the 1990s through wood-packing materials for shipped goods.
First identified as a threat in Michigan in 2002, the insect has now been confirmed in 15 states as well as parts of Canada.
According to Bachman's presentation, 25 states are expected to have emerald ash borer infestations by 2019. The cost of removal and replacement of affected trees is expected be more than 10 billion dollars, with the brunt of the bill hitting local governments.
The Chautauqua County Emerald Ash Borer Task Force is scheduled for another meeting on Sept. 11 at 9:30 a.m. The location of the meeting has yet to be determined.