Invasive Tree-Killing Insects Cost U.S. Over $3.5 Billion a Year


Photo credit: Denis Defryne via Flickr/CC BY

The rise of invasive species is well-known: As globalization advanced, nations started shipping more and more goods across the planet, intrepid creatures started hitching rides and showing up across the ocean from where they belonged. Invasive species can be dangerous, irritating, disruptive, and, as a recent study reveals, expensive as hell. A new study in the biology journal PLoS One reveals, for instance, that tree-killing invasive forest insects alone are costing the US billions of dollars a year. From the study:

Homeowners and taxpayers are picking up most of the tab for damage caused by invasive tree-feeding insects that hide in packing materials, live plants and other goods imported from countries into the United States every year.

The authors, which include University of Central Florida Biologist Betsy Von Holle, looked at three types of invasive pests that feed on U.S. trees, the emerald ash borer, gypsy moth, and hemlock woolly adelgid. Using actual costs, researchers calculated the economic damages for five categories: federal governments, local governments, households, residential property value losses and timber value losses to forest landowners. The costs were staggering.

The costs of invasive forest insects to local governments is on average more than $2 billion per year and residential property value loss due to forest insects averages $ 1.5 billion a year. The federal government spends on average about $216 million a year.

These invasive insects feast on trees -- and our trees haven't acquired any evolutionary defenses to combat the marauding bugs. So huge swaths of trees are killed off. In the process, governments must mobilize efforts to locate and kill the insects, vital forest services are lost, and property values decrease.

The paper then moves to advocate for imposing tariffs on certain imported goods that might host invasive insects -- and using the income to help fight them off. An interesting idea, to be sure. But we've seen just how receptive our current corporate and political apparati are to sensible, science-based policy suggestions these days ...

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