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Residential Fight Against Emerald Ash Borer

Mike Moen

The Emerald Ash Borer continues to spread in northern Illinois. Experts say it’s inevitable the tree-killing insect will reach new territory. They urge communities in its path to take steps to reduce the impact. But it’s not just a problem for local officials. Residents have also joined the fight.

Along a residential street in the heart of DeKalb stands a tall ash tree. Upon closer inspection, this tree has visible signs of being infected with the Emerald Ash Borer. Scott Schirmer, who’s with the Illinois Department of Agriculture, points out some of the tan spots created by woodpeckers.

“They’re trying to free up the tighter bark underneath so they can peck away and get at the larva trying to feed,” Schirmer said.

Schirmer says another sign is sprouting along the trunk area. Scanning the bark around this tree, he spots a couple of areas where such activity is occurring.

Schirmer knows plenty about this topic. He oversees the department’s program designed to control the spread of EAB. The invasive species has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. since its arrival more than a decade ago.

The presence of this destructive beetle has been confirmed in nearly 25 Illinois counties. At the onset, the bulk of the infestation was seen in the greater Chicago area. But Schirmer says it’s now being found in places like Dixon and Champaign.

“It’s starting to spread out south and west. But fortunately, there are still some areas that have time to do something and proactively start to manage it versus reactively,” Shirmer said.

Local governments are faced with the tough decision to scrape together hard-to-find resources to combat the problem. Money has to be spent to treat infected trees with chemicals in hopes of diminishing decay and slowing the spread. Experts say that, if nothing is done, the situation grows worse because it costs more money to remove and replace the trees after the insect consumes an area. The price tag reaches the millions when dealing with a large collection of trees.

While towns and villages weigh their options about fighting EAB on a broader scale, outreach efforts have been extended to homeowners.

Jay Solomon is with the University of Illinois Extension office that covers Winnebago, Jo Daviess and Stephenson Counties. His team will be hosting workshops in the coming weeks where residents can learn about what they can do to deal with the nuisance.

Solomon says communities treating or removing thousands of ash trees at a time is important. But, he adds, individual property owners taking action can be just as helpful.

“The best thing we can do to slow the spread down is to reduce the nursery, because the tree is the nursery for the insect,” Solomon said.

But just as it is for municipal leaders, Solomon says it’s a difficult situation for homeowners. He says that, if they’re willing to take care of a tree deemed healthy enough for treatment, they have to prepare to make an ongoing investment.

“Treatment is rather expensive. It’s not cost-prohibitive, but it is a commitment,” Solomon said.

A typical chemical injection can cost upwards of $100 and is needed about every two years over the life of a tree. And if a property owner decides that neither that or removal is an option, a dying ash in their yard can become a hazard as its structure weakens.

Amy Zinga of Bartlett found herself in this dilemma when the Emerald Ash Borer made its way into her neighborhood. 

“The whole reason that we bought our home is because we love the tree-lined streets. And, unfortunately, that’s when we became aware of EAB and we started to see the damage it was causing in the trees,” Zinga said.

Zinga says that’s when she began to research the matter and, with the help of an arborist, organized a neighborhood effort to push back against the insect. She was able to secure a group rate for treatments. She also came up with a plan to inspire more action.

“If you knew that so and so wasn’t treating their tree for whatever reason, neighbors of one another could adopt and pay for the treatment of those trees to help them out,” Zinga said.

Zinga says they even got permission to take care of trees that fell on village property. So far, she says the effort appears to have paid off. Last summer, Zinga says the decline in the trees that received treatment appeared to have stopped.

Experts like Scott Shirmer agree this problem takes on a different dynamic when it’s presented before an individual resident.

“It may be the only tree on their property. So it’s very significant to that individual piece of land. It may be a whole lot more emotional for them versus one tree on street for a community,” Schirmer said.

That’s why he hopes affected homeowners become more engaged with outreach efforts in the big fight against this tiny little pest.

Upcoming workshops

*This info is from the U-of-I extension website

University of Illinois Extension will host 3 informative EAB workshops:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. - click here to REGISTER
North Suburban Library
6340 N Second St
Loves Park IL

Monday, May 20, 2013 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. - click here to REGISTER
Highland Community College West
300 N West St
Elizabeth IL

Thursday, June 6, 2013, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. - click here to REGISTER
Highland Community College, Building H Room 210
2998 W Pearl City Rd
Freeport IL

Extension educators Candice Miller and Jay Solomon will explain the history, life cycle, and control options for EAB. There will be time for participants to ask questions.

The fee for this EAB program is $5. To register online, use the links above or call the U of I Extension office (Jo Daviess 815-858-2273, Stephenson 815-235-4125, Winnebago 815-986-4357)

University of Illinois Extension is also hosting 3 informative EAB workshops in additional counties:

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 from 6:00-7:30 PM
Boone County Extension
205 Cadillac Court, Unit 5
Belvidere, IL 61008

Thursday, May 30, 2013 from 6:00-7:30 PM
DeKalb County Extension
1350 W. Prairie Drive
Sycamore, IL 61078

Monday, June 3, 2013 from 6:00-7:30 PM
Ogle County Extension
421 W. Pines Road
Oregon, IL 61061