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Report: Invasive pests threaten to reshape forests

Groves of ash trees lost to beetles. Stately alders under assault by moths. And fungus-like organisms attacking oaks.

In the battle to halt the march of tree-killing pests across the country, it's easy to get discouraged.

Even so, researchers at the University of Tennessee and an environmental group warned in a recent report that without action, forests during the next few decades will fundamentally change as species die and take with them entire ecosystems.

"The principal message is this is a disaster that we can counter if we choose to," said Faith Campbell, a co-author of the report and researcher with The Nature Conservancy. "The biggest threat to our forests, in our view, is willful neglect."

In the report, "Fading Forests III," Campbell and Scott Schlarbaum, a professor in the University of Tennessee's forestry department, chronicle the spread of numerous pests — from a fairly new green beetle native to Asia called the emerald ash borer to the gypsy moth, a pest that's been attacking trees here for more than a century.

The authors call on lawmakers, government agencies and citizens to take action before it's too late to make a difference. Their recommendations include incentives for businesses that take action to control the spread of pests and more funding to stop the introduction of new species at borders and ports. That's in addition to a call for more resources thrown at fighting the pests that are established in some regions.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014