Are your trees doomed? Emerald ash borer is getting closer

News-DemocratNovember 14, 2013 

I've been writing about the emerald ash borer for a number of years now but it has always has been as a pest that probably is years away yet.

So far, it hasn't been found in the metro-east, but experts keep telling me it is only a matter of time.

That time may be getting shorter.

The emerald ash borer, or EAB, has been discovered in Marion County, just a couple of counties to the east of us and in Perry County, Mo., just 60 miles or so south of here.

The small exotic beetle is the bane of arborists as it steadily destroys ash trees in a large swath of the United States and Canada.

The beetle was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in the summer of 2002. It probably arrived in the wood of shipping pallets from overseas.

It soon spread into Canada and neighboring states. In June 2006, it appeared in northern Illinois.

The bug has spread from Canada to Georgia and from the East Coast to Colorado. Experts estimate EAB has killed tens of millions of trees in Michigan as well as tens of millions in other states as well.

There is no effective treatment.

The adult beetles merely munch on foliage, but their larvae burrow under the bark of ash trees creating tunnels that disrupt a tree's ability to move water and nutrients, killing the tree.

Karl Dreyer, St. Louis district manager of the Davey Tree Expert Company, is a certified arborist on a campaign to publicize the pest. He stopped by this week to talk about what people can do to protect their trees.

The short answer is nothing.

"I would say they are doomed," Dreyer said about ash trees.

Whoa. Really?

I know the experts have been saying that for years, but still it seems drastic.

While researchers are working on treatments and possible solutions to EAB, there aren't any really good ones. A parasitic wasp might eat the bugs but it also could cause other problems and the country has been down that road before with other invasive species.

States are trying to prevent the spread of EAB by banning the movement of firewood which is the major means of transportation for the pest. The state of Illinois also has a website: agr.state.il.us/eab where you can get more information.

Dreyer said strategies involve weeding out doomed ash trees, protecting the other trees and planting a wide variety of trees.

A lot of people don't even recognize ash trees. But they are pretty much everywhere, he said.

"Ash trees make up probably 10 to 15 percent of the urban forest," he said. "They were popular as landscape tree in the 1970s and '80s because they are a relatively fast growing shade tree."

The trees do not have a easily recognizable leaf like maples or oaks.

The bugs tend to show up first around campgrounds which are in heavily wooded areas, probably traveling by infested firewood.

"You usually don't know they are there," Dreyer said. "By the time they are detected, the tree is almost always done. You usually see woodpeckers knocking off big slabs of bark."

He said you can wait until a tree dies but that might make it more expensive to take down.

"Once that pest gets in, it makes tree very brittle. They become harder to remove and more dangerous."

He recommended you have your trees evaluated by a professional arborist.

Of course, that is what he does for a living.

Still, your other best hope is a last-minute miracle cure.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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