Ash trees coming down

Jacob Lane · Tuesday, January 2, 2018
A small, metallic, green, invasive pest is forcing the City of West Liberty to remove around 130 ash trees around the community.

Known as the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), the wood-boring beetle native to east Asia, eats ash trees from the inside out, killing perfectly healthy looking trees.

Unfortunately, the only response is to remove the ash trees before the inevitable happens: death.

“We feel like we’ve targeted the majority of the worst trees, and over the next couple of years we’re definitely going to budget to remove the remaining trees,” says City Manager Lawrence McNaul.

The city took community members by surprise several weeks ago when it removed several ash trees, even though there’s still a good 100 trees to go.

The city targeted what it considered the worst cases first, big trees that could potentially fall over and cause damage after being killed by the EAB.

Workers marked the trees with red spray paint. Eventually, they removed the trees as close to the base as possible by sawing them down.

According to City Manager McNaul, when it has the appropriate equipment and help it will remove the remaining trees’ trunks and roots from the ground.

Basically, it’s a preemptive strike. The alternative would be letting the trees rot due to the EAB on their own, then falling over when no one expects it.

“We had been removing them for years as needed, but now we’re seeing it spread like wildfire around town,” said City Manager McNaul.

“In the last few weeks we removed about 14 trees, and it looks like we can handle another 10 to 15 ourselves,” he adds. “Beyond that, we’re going to have to work with some contractors.”

It costs around $700 to $1,200 to remove a fully grown tree, so the city has attempted to do as many as it can before bringing in help.

But given the increased infestation of the EAB, the city will up its ash tree removal rate in 2018, moving on to the smaller trees that will eventually be affected.

It should be noted that the city is removing ash trees on its property. Meaning it’s up to owners of ash trees on private property to tear down their own trees.

Trees are being removed from what is considered city property, which includes the space between the sidewalk and the street, as well as public parks.

However, there is some good news.

There is a plan to replant around 30 trees this summer through a grant from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Furthermore, two years ago the city teamed up with West Liberty FFA to plant 30 trees then as well, so that’ll be 60 replacement trees by the end of summer 2018.

The DNR will provide a variety of different kinds of trees to help replace what has been lost. If local organizations want to step up and help as well, they’ll be accepted.

However, the city will take a hit in its greenery with ash tree removal. That’s the cold, hard truth.

It will be especially noticeable along Fifth Street, which has the heaviest population of ash trees. But, the trees are coming down all over town.

“We knocked out the worst first,” said City Manager McNaul. “That’s what they did the first couple of weeks when they were out heavily removing trees.”

How it began

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the EAB (Agrilus planipennis) was first discovered in North America in Detroit, Mich. in 2002.

It originates in east Asia, where females lay eggs in trees and larvae feed underneath the bark and emerge as adults one to two years later.

In 2010 the invasive species was first spotted in Iowa on an island in the Mississippi River near the town of New Albin.

“Since then, the beetle has moved westward through the state, and new infestations have been found on an ongoing basis,” states the DNR website.

How it even got to the United States and Canada is unclear, though it’s suspected that the pest was introduced in shipping materials such as packing crates in the 1990s.

The reason for the massive spread is simple, people moved infested firewood, ash nursery stock and other ash items across the state.

The state attempted to quarantine the movement of ash product, but the damage has been done. Within the next few years the pest will be in all of Iowa.

“Early inventory data indicates that there are roughly 52 million woodland ash trees and 3.1 million community ash trees in Iowa,” states the website.

“As ash is one of the most commonly planted street trees in the state, EAB will have a huge impact on the forest resources of cities and towns throughout,” it adds.

The EAB was first spotted in Muscatine County in July of 2014, the 11th infested county. It, of course, was not the last county.

Additional states under quarantine include Colorado, Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

West Liberty is just a smaller picture of the larger infestation, which is spreading across Iowa and the rest of the United States.

Here we go again

One reason the impact can be felt in West Liberty can actually be traced back to another invasive pest known as the Elm Bark Beetle.

The pest introduced Dutch Elm Disease to North America in the 1930s, the slow rot began killing millions of native elm trees.

According to the report entitled “Dutch Elm Disease” (DED) published in 1999 through Iowa State University:

“The first reported cases in Iowa were in Lee and Scott Counties in 1956. Since that time, DED has been detected in all 99 counties, and approximately 95 percent of Iowa’s urban American elms have been killed.”

West Liberty was no exception. DED was reported to hit Muscatine County in 1959, by 1963 its effects were fully felt, especially at the then ‘West Liberty Fairgrounds.’

In the National Register of Historic Places registration form, filed and received in 2015 for the Muscatine County Fairgrounds, it reported the following

The fairgrounds were” hit hard by the onset of Dutch elm disease. A total of 24 elm trees were removed in 1962, followed by 42 elms, five oak, and two hickory in 1963.”

Furthermore, “the property ledger book indicates that five ash, four soft maple, and three oak trees were planted in 1963 to begin to replace the dead trees.”

That’s right, in order to replace fallen elm trees the fairgrounds chose ash trees, among others, to help repopulate.

Who knows how many ash trees were planted in the City of West Liberty over the early 1960s in order to replace lost elm trees.

Now, some 60 years later, many of the ash trees planted back then are dying due to an invasive Asian pest. The circle of life.
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