Tuesday, December 01, 2009

EAB in Kane County

By BRENDA SCHORY bschory@kcchronicle.com
John Higgins of The Fox Valley Tree Service removes an ash tree infested with the emerald ash borer at the University of Illinois Horticultural Research Center at Peck Road and Route 38 in St. Charles on Friday morning. (Jon Langham – For the Chronicle)

ST. CHARLES – The ash trees stood tall like sentinels guarding Route 38 at Peck Road as cars and trucks whizzed by.

For years, they grew, the older ones about 40 years, the younger ones 12 years. They spread their broad branches, turned green or bare as the seasons changed. They provided shade and habitat for birds and squirrels, survived flood and drought, snow and lightning storms.

But now only 16 remain, dying from emerald ash borer infestation. The rest are already chopped, chipped and burned to help prevent the spread of the non-native insect from Asia that threatens the rest of the area’s ash trees, said nature volunteer Bill Fiedler of St. Charles.

Fiedler and others are looking for more volunteers to take down such trees to avoid losing even more trees. Removing a tree can cost thousands that the University of Illinois doesn’t have to spend at its Horticultural Research Center.

The 13th tree to come down late last week was 40 years old, according to its rings, Fiedler said.

“What took 40 years to grow took four or five years to destroy,” Fielder said.

The emerald ash borer is believed have come to the U.S. in wooden packing materials from Asia sometime in the 1990s, but wasn’t discovered in ash trees in the Midwest until 2002. The Illinois Department of Agriculture first identified the insect in Kane County in 2006.

The insect’s larva has been blamed for killing 20 million trees in Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, Maryland and Indiana. Efforts to control its spread have been ongoing.

Fiedler, 80, a volunteer and activist, watched as the trees declined while he and other volunteers planted a community garden at the research center. The trees are on U of I property, but university officials said there was no money in their budget to remove them.

So in September, Fiedler and the other volunteers began asking local tree companies to volunteer their services to take them down.

So far, of the 20 companies the volunteers solicited, Bob Anderson’s company, Fox Valley Tree Service, Geneva, has removed 12 and The Care of Trees in West Chicago removed two. Tree removal costs from $500 to $1,000 or more per tree, depending on its size, Anderson said.

“It’s a really big problem and I thought it was a good thing to do to help them out,” Anderson said. “Getting them down will prevent more ash borers from spreading come spring. Once they emerge and fly, they’ll take off to the next ash tree.”

William Shoemaker, superintendent of the research office, said the university is very grateful for the donated services to remove the trees. He hopes other volunteers will step up to remove them.

“There’s going to be dead trees lining Route 38, harboring the ash borer pest,” Shoemaker said. “The ash borer needs a live host so its life cycle will pass, and the adults will move on to infest new trees.”

Shoemaker said the non-native beetle’s effect on ash trees is comparable to the nation losing virtually all its elms to Dutch elm disease and its chestnut trees to a blight.

“It is a devastating event for our state, as 20 percent of our tree population is ash,” Shoemaker said of the ash borer’s infestation.

Fielder, a volunteer at the plant clinic at the Morton Arboretum in Lombard, who has followed efforts to stop the ash borer, said he and the other volunteers watched the U of I trees decline for the last three years without any action to cut them down.

“Those little bugs will start flying all over and infect ash trees in the Tri-Cities and surrounding areas,” Fiedler said. “If you see what is done to communities in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, entire neighborhoods are barren or treeless. It would be like going down Third Street in Geneva and not having any trees there at all.”

It may already be too late.

• • •

The Illinois Department of Agriculture Web site states in bold red type, “It is strongly recommended that known EAB infested ash be removed immediately.”

Paul Deizman, emerald ash borer program manager for the agriculture department, said both the state and local communities have the legal power to order property owners – including the U of I – to remove infested trees. Either the City of St. Charles or the state could have ordered their removal.

But neither have taken that step, yet.

“The hard part is to exercise that right,” Deizman said.

“If U of I was derelict in their responsibility, we would call them out on it. But by the time the first tree was found, the ash borer was all over Campton Township.”

At the moment, laws require infested ash trees to be destroyed and not transported outside ash borer quarantine areas all as an effort to slow the spread of the borer, Deizman said. The state identified all or portions of 21 north and central counties – including Kane County – as a quarantine area for ash trees.

“Can we outlaw ash trees altogether, have them all destroyed? No matter how many times we wrestle with that question, there is not a good answer. Almost every ash tree in the Tri-City area is already infested without showing outward symptoms. Is it fair to to start taking down [seemingly] healthy trees when we can’t do it fairly to everybody? It would take an army.”

The goal at this point is to slow the spread through quarantine not removal as removing all the state’s ash trees is virtually unachievable, he said.

“They are so far embedded, we can’t beat them,” Deizman said. “In Kane County, we think 95 percent of the ash trees are partially or fully infested and anything short of removing 90 percent will not make a difference.”

Illinois has 200 million ash trees and there are about 20,000 public trees in the St. Charles area, Deizman said. Estimates are that every city has four times that amount in backyards and private property.

Other than quarantine and education, research is continuing on three tiny wasps that could provide a biological control.

The wasps, which also come from Asia, inject their own eggs into the borer’s eggs or larvae, killing them, Deizman said. It is the larvae which kills the trees by burrowing into the ash’s vascular system so the tree cannot take in nutrients.

Research is also continuing on insecticides to kill it, he said.

• • •

Neither the state, nor the cities of Geneva or St. Charles have gone so far as to force property owners to remove infested trees – that is, beyond their legal power to order nuisance or hazardous trees removed from private property.

But Batavia is.

Public Works Superintendent Gary Holm said the city has sent 12 letters to private property owners telling them to remove 59 trees infested with ash borer.

“In a lot of ways, we are all fighting a losing battle because we really care about the trees,” Holm said. “But as we inspect and find the ash borer, we are taking steps to remove them – or to have them removed. Unfortunately, that’s the solution. There is not another solution.”


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