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Kare 11 News
May 20, 2007

http://www.kare11.com/news/news_article.aspx?storyid=254286

On an early May afternoon, that feels more like Summer, Spring is at the height of its green glory in a Janesville, Wisconsin park.

And yet for an ash tree standing next to a ball diamond, sunset has arrived in the form of a work crew and a chainsaw.

Within mere minutes of starting the saw's engine, the tree is down.

It is one of 14 trees Janesville toppled by Wisconsin's Department of Agriculture in early May.

But the job doesn't end with cutting the tree into pieces. One worker grabs a branch and says, "We'll be peeling these."

With special knifes, workers begin peeling off the bark in pursuit of a very unappealing creature, the Emerald Ash Borer.

"We haven't seen them in Wisconsin yet," another worker notes.
And they don't want to.

"Emerald Ash Borer kills ash trees, healthy, sick, big or small, indiscriminately. It attacks them all," according to Mick Skwarok of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

Skwarok holds a dead Emerald Ash Borer in his hand. It's about the size of a grain of wild rice. And the similar-sized larvae can kill tree, after tree, after tree.

This May day, crews scrape the ash branches looking for evidence of the larvae, trails beneath the bark, that amount to deadly footprints of the bug.

Skwarok says the beetle kills by, "cutting off the flow of water and nutrients."

And what a deadly trail it's left. Since first identified in Michigan in 2002, the beetle from Asia has killed more than 20 million ash trees. While they only travel up to a half mile a year, the Emerald Ash Borer can hitch rides on firewood.

It has now been found in northern Illinois, creeping closer to Wisconsin and ultimately Minnesota.



"The ash firewood that was moving around for years without any thought to Emerald Ash Borer, this thing could turn up anywhere," Skwarok says.

Besides downing the 14 trees in Janesville, crews also shave off small sections of bark on 14 other standing trees. The resulting scent can lure any nearby adult beetles to this so-called sentinel tree.

And this tree is on the frontline considering where the borer's been found, "Just 30, 35 miles south of here in northern Illinois," Skwarok says.

Northern Illinois to Janesville, Wisconsin to Southeastern Minnesota is merely a direct drive up I-90. Along the border, in Houston County, which is home to tree-filled hills, they're also on the look-out for the approaching Emerald Ash Borer plague.

"It's inevitable it will reach Minnesota," Mark Abrahamson, Emerald Ash Borer Project Manager for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture notes as he spins through a campground here on a golf cart.

This is a potential jumping off point for the beetle, and a natural site for a sentinel tree. This one is one of hundreds across Minnesota.

While touring the campground, Abrahamson counts Ash trees in the woods here. He notes the state's forests and urban areas are home to 870 million ash trees. And he sees no silver bullet capable of stopping the green monster if it arrived today.

"The experts say potentially we could lose all of them (ash trees)," Abrahamson says.

What a potential pity, especially when you consider the tree-lined streets of Minneapolis and the history of tree trouble in the State's largest city.

"Oh I love trees," John Vereb says as he walks his dog through south Minneapolis.

Standing on the sidewalk next to his home he points and says, "That one, the city replaced the elm tree."

It was an elm tree that fell victim to Dutch Elm Disease. And the replacement tree is an Ash, which is now vulnerable to the beetle.

"Sounds like something from the Wizard of Oz. Emerald City. Emerald Ash Borer. That's nothing the wizard would want to put upon the city of Minneapolis," Vereb quips.

Beyond Vereb's yard, there are blocks filled with Ash trees. About 20 percent of Minneapolis' boulevard trees are Ash, according to Ralph Sievert, director of forestry with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board.

He says the many ash are the result of public pressure to plant fast growing replacement trees for all of those dead elms.

Walking down one south Minneapolis block covered by a canopy of ash trees he says, "This is an example of a street that just like 30 years ago when Dutch Elm Disease came through, is a street we're going to end up losing."

And with the deadly borer's impending arrival he says in Minneapolis, "We've just stopped planting ash altogether."

Even Bachman's feels the bugs threatening bite.

Standing in the middle of Bachman's Farmington Tree Farm, horticultural advisor Mike Hibbard says, "These are the last of the ash trees that are going to be in Bachman's fields."

Two years ago, they quit planting ash. Their inventory is now dwindling.

Hibbard says, "I would suspect that if this Emerald Ash bug came to the Cities, that the ash population would be devastated faster than anything Dutch Elm did."

According to Hibbard once Bachman's runs out of ash, it can still acquire trees for those customers who want them.

Back in south Minneapolis, John Vereb plans to watch for the tiny pest.

"Just like little dogs, they're the worst biters," he says.

And back down the road on Wisconsin's frontline that early day in May, the crew wraps up its work.

One worker says, "No sign of anything yet."

"Good news with regards to this particular tree," Mick Skwarok says.

But the crews will keep watching, waiting for a way to bite back, while trying to slow the Emerald Ash Borer's march.

Skwarok says, "If we can find it early, we have a much better chance of getting it under control."

Not sure how this will and has been affecting other Midwestern cities (looks like the Detroit area has taken a hard hit), but it looks like Minneapolis-St. Paul won't fare well when the invasion inevitably reaches us. How terribly ironic that most of the street trees planted to replace the elms were ash.
 

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Yeah, I saw the special about this on Kare11 last night. They certainly make it sound as if losing every last living ash tree in Minnesota is inevitable.

I'm not quite sure I necessarily believe that, considering Dutch Elm didn't kill every last remaining elm tree (although almost all of them). It will probably be at least a few years before we start to see any signs of invasion, and hopefully they'll find a way to help slow it or maybe even stop it.

Otherwise, if we're truly doomed I guess I'll just have to get blinds for my south-facing apartment which is currently shaded by mature ashes.
 

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Nonhyphenated-American
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Speaking of ash trees, that's what Major League Baseball bats are made out of.

:eek:

Anyways, perhaps things are starting to come full circle on these trees. I saw an article a couple of weeks ago about Dutch Elm fungus-resistant hybrid American Elms now being available and I also know that researchers are about ready to go on blight fungus-resistant hybrid American Chestnuts.

I still see lots of smaller American Elms around here in the Appleton area, although the fungus does strike them down on a regular basis. They do generally make it to seed-bearing age and size before dieing, though, and I do consider that to be a 'saving grace' for the species. American Elms are the *IDEAL* urban tree in temperate areas. They grow fast, grow big, live long and are hyper-tolerant of life in the city. With fungus-resistant ones now available, I wouldn't mind seeing them being used in the general urban tree planting mix again.

Also, even though American Chestnuts are not native here in NE Wisconsin, I wouldn't mind seeing some blight-resistant ones planted here, too.

:)

Mike
 

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Cory
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Last year I amended the landscaping ordinance for the Town I work for in Metro Indy prohibiting Ash Trees :(
 

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President of Catan
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I was once told Ash trees help prevent police from detecting Marijuana farms in woods. Is that true?
According to my source, Kentucky's large population of Ash trees is a contributor to the reason marijuana is Kentucky's current number one export.
 
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