The Emerald Ash Borer and It's Role in the Destruction of Ontario’s Ash Population

by jgabriel on October 6, 2017 - 10:10pm

The recent history of managing ash resources in Ontario has been full of government strategies that have all ended in failure. With ash populations plummeting to extinction, this resource management disaster can be attributed to one invasive species, the emerald ash borer.

The fight for control over the emerald ash borer (or EAB) has been outlined by Mary Baxter in her article “Fighting to save Ontario’s forests from the emerald ash borer”. Baxter was trying to chronicle the spread of EAB in Ontario to find out whether the government did enough to stop the epidemic. She starts by telling the history of different management strategies implemented by members of the Ontario government and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. She used testimony from a member of this agency as well as the opinion of scientists to substantiate her claims.  Baxter says that after the first sighting of the beetle, government officials felt the need to act quickly. The government therefore implemented a firebreak operation, which called for the clear cutting of trees on government and private property in infected areas. Homeowners did not have a say in this decision. The operation was a rushed and controversial plan based largely on the best science at the time. The operation’s goal of containment was never accomplished though, with EAB populations spreading through Ontario and into Quebec. This spread has resulted in five of six Ontario ash species becoming critically endangered. Baxter says that there is seemingly no solution to the problem at this point, with experts claiming that extinction of ash in Ontario is nearly inevitable.

This article was informative as a whole, but could have analyse the resource management issues raised more deeply. One issue I have with this article is how it addressed the conflict between the state and residents when it came to using firebreak methods. These methods created conflicts of interest between the government and homeowners, with the homeowners not wanting their property to be damaged and the government solely focusing on containing the epidemic. The homeowner’s side was never full supported though, and was instead dismissed as unimportant to the greater good. The citizens were helpless against the state’s management program and had no choice but to allow clear cutting of their property. I feel that this was unjust, and the state should not be able to use their material power over citizens to implement their management plans on private land. This expression of material power for “the greater good” can lead to undesired results, where the state uses their power to create plans that inevitably backfire and make situations even worse.

Another issue I have with Baxter’s article is that she never answers her own question about whether the government did enough to stop the epidemic. This question is central to understanding the outbreak and its place in natural resource management as a whole. I would say that the government had imperfect information, but did as much as they could. In complex biological systems, complete understanding is often impossible. This is called indeterminacy, and this level of uncertainty often results in issues with resource management plans. The government used the best science available at the time to create their management strategy, and it still wasn’t enough. They invested time and money into researching and implementing their plan the best they could. Management strategies cannot account for every complexity in a biological system though, and uncertainty can cause undesired results.

In summation, Baxter’s article helped to shed light on the issues involved in EAB management, but failed to analyse them deeply enough.


Article Used:

Baxter, M. (2017, September 20th). Fighting to save Ontario’s forests from the emerald ash borer. TVO southwestern Ontario.

Retrieved from:

Additional Resources:

Scott, J. (1998). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press.

Mitchell, B. (2015). Resource and Environmental Management in Canada: Addressing Conflict and Uncertainty. Oxford University Press.

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