Emerald Ash Borer

Sun-Commercial photo by Gayle R. Robbins | Planted in Greenlawn Cemetery almost 200 years ago to provide eternal shade over the grave of Samuel Thornton Scott, the first head of Vincennes University, this ash tree is being treated in an effort to prevent its demise to the emerald ash borer.

It's been more than two years since members of the city's Tree Board were told to go to forth and chop down at least 50 city-owned ash trees ahead of the anticipated invasion of the emerald ash borer.

And while it's close, the little bug with a destructively-voracious appetite still hasn't made its debut locally.

“We're surrounded on all sides,” said Ryan Lough, a Tree Board member and director of operations for Perk-A-Lawn Gardens, 2470 Maranatha Lane. “It's in most of the counties around us, but I don't think it's been located here yet.

“We've all done a really good job in working together,” he said. “We're really pushing back, and I think that will be seen in the length of time it takes (the emerald ash borer) to get here.”

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has been watching the emerald ash borer's march across Indiana since it was first confirmed here in the spring of 2004.

The exotic green beetle feeds on ash trees and was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in July 2002, according to the DNR's website.

In an effort to slow its invasion, DNR implemented quarantines and prohibited the movement of firewood from one county to another. There were once strict stipulations in how an affected ash tree had to be removed and disposed of, but those regulations have been loosened as the ash borer is now prevalent in most of Indiana's 92 counties.

The DNR still, however, inspects and issues licenses to small firewood dealers whose product is not already inspected and certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And it keeps a very close eye on firewood brought into state parks as well.

The city council in July 2014 gave to the local Tree Board $30,000 to begin removing ash trees from the city's rights-of-way, typically the space between the curb and the sidewalk.

The emerald ash borer, once it moves in, kills a tree quickly thereby creating a hazard for passers-by.

Removing them altogether was the best way the Tree Board saw to minimize the effects of the emerald ash borer, and Lough argued that it would be much cheaper now than later.

But there were some large — even historic — ash trees both in Gregg Park and the city's cemeteries off Willow Street that everyone wanted to see saved. Those few are being treated with a special chemical in an effort to protect them.

The Tree Board had enough money to treat those in Gregg Park (the treatment is done through a series of annual injections) and members of the Vincennes Historical and Antiquarian Society banned together and raised enough money to treat five more in the cemeteries.

The trees must be treated once a year for at least 10 years. It can take upwards of five years for the ash borer, once it moves into a county, to move back out, Lough said.

But it will be up to local residents to treat the ash trees in their own yards they want to see saved. Or they'll eventually have to pay to remove the decaying remains.

Eric Bitner with the DNR's Department of Entomology said by the time someone notices damage done to an ash tree, it's too late to treat it and save it. And whether it's treating the tree now or removing it later, it's going to cost something, he said.

“So you want to be proactive instead of reactive,” he said. “Once it moves in, you're going to lose all of the ash trees on your property, so treating is a very proactive way to save money.

“Eventually, you will have to pay to remove it because they will die and become a hazard,” Bitner said. “That's why cities have chosen to remove so many now.”

Bitner, who said the ash borer was just located in Evansville, said residents can reach out to DNR officials in seeking advice on how best to treat an ash tree.

And local Tree Board members, too, can help, Lough said.

Bitner said DNR officials do encourage property owners to treat their ash trees as opposed to removing them, but they're also not in a position to force people's hand either way.

“Of course we want to see the trees survive, but we also realize we're not offering any financial assistance to treat them,” he said. “The property manager would have to foot that cost. And we understand that that's a burden.

The state's forests will end up losing their ash tree populations, Bitner said, and already a trip to beloved woodlands such as Brown County State Park reveal how devastating the ash borer can be.

“If you look into forest lands, you will see dead trees,” Bitner said. “And all those dead trees are most likely going to be ash trees. You can clearly see the extent of the damage even from the road, and that's the reason you want to be concerned as a homeowner. Your ash trees will ultimately die if they're not protected.”

And it's all a shame, Lough said, as the ash tree “is a beautiful tree” with lots of Hoosier history.

“We haven't sold any ash trees here at the nursery for six, maybe eight years,” Lough said. “And they've become unmovable as a part of the quarantines.

“It's a beautiful tree that has a good history in Indiana, that's for sure,” he said. “So I've been sorry to see them go.”

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