When it comes to ash trees, it’s not if they are going to disappear, it’s when. “Ultimately all of the ash trees are going to die,” said Ralph Sievert from the Minneapolis Forestry Department. “I use the analogy of a snowstorm. It’s better to deal with eight inch snow storms every once in a while than an avalanche all at once.”
Michael Schommer, Communications Director from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) said that if precautions aren’t taken, all of the ash trees could be gone from Minnesota in just a few years. Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), an exotic beetle whose larvae eats up the bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. Emerald Ash Borers have killed tens of millions of trees in Southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In Minnesota, a series of precautions are being taken to slow down the inevitable loss of millions of trees. Since the discovery of the first Minnesota case of EAB in St. Paul last May, the MDA issued a quarantine of ash trees in both Ramsey County and Hennepin County to protect ash trees in other parts of Minnesota. The quarantine prohibits moving ash trees, ash limbs and branches, ash chips and firewood of any variety. Schommer said that the MDA is relying on average citizens to help prevent the quick spread of EAB, and is working to educate the public about the importance of abiding by the quarantine.
In addition to prohibiting movement of dead ash trees, Schommer said MDA, in cooperation with St. Paul and Minneapolis forestry departments, will be removing trees from the infested area. St. Paul has begun “destructive sampling” of ash trees near infected areas. Rachel Coyle from the St. Paul Forestry Department said destructive sampling involves city forestry crews removing trees and MDA inspectors peeling the bark to look for EAB larvae. As of the first week of November, close to 80 trees were confirmed as infested in St. Paul, and around 50 were taken down. Coyle said that an additional 20 trees will be taken down by the end of the year. For a detailed rundown of St. Paul’s EAB updates, see the city’s website.
In Minneapolis, Ralph Sievert from the Minneapolis Forestry Department said that 15 trees have been taken down in the Bryn Mawr and Harrison neighborhoods where Xcel Energy will be doing line clearance. Sievert said that the line clearance was a way to start the process of ash removal now, even though the trees weren’t infected, so that when the disease spreads the city won’t be overwhelmed with an enormous amount of necessary removals.
Kim Moon, who lives on California Avenue in St. Paul, said the trees on his block were not infected, but seven years ago new curbs and gutters were put in on his street and caused a lot of damage to the trees. “They were hurting, ” he said. The neighborhood had a community meeting, and made the decision to take down the trees. Kim said that the decision was based on the logic that it was better to get the trees replanted now while the city still had funding to do it. “They’re going to run out of money. If all the ash trees are going to die, there’s no way they are going to be able to replant all those trees,” he said. Kim said he was sad to see the trees go, but it was some comfort to have new trees replanted. “Now it looks very barren,” he said.
According to St. Paul’s EAB management plan, St. Paul’s Forestry Department doesn’t have the resources to handle EAB’s inevitable large infestation. They have created the Incident Command System (ICS), led by the United States Department of Agriculture and the MDA to respond to the crisis. Rachel Coyle from St. Paul’s Forestry Department said that one possible source of funding is the Outdoor Heritage funding. Coyle said that there’s a million dollars available for 2010 for that purpose, and the city will most likely get that funding.
Nonprofits are stepping in to help with the crisis, too. Tree Trust, a nonprofit that was created in 1976 in response to the devastation of Dutch Elm Disease, said that Tree Trust’s Green Futures program gets communities involved in planting new trees in their neighborhoods. “Best bet is to plant more trees,” Schneider said. Tree Trust has planted 300 trees in 2009.
At the University of Minnesota, researchers are collecting seeds so that years from now, when all of the trees have died, or a possible cure has been found, the Ash trees can be replanted. The Star Tribune reports that researchers estimate that the seeds might be planted in just 20 years.
Catherine Day hasn’t lost her ash trees yet, but she lives near the St. Anthony neighborhood where they are coming down. She said that they tested one of the trees near her house using a trap, but didn’t find any bugs. Day said that her entire boulevard is made up of ash trees, and she is not looking forward to the day when the trees will have to be cut down. She said she remembers when her block was filled with elm trees 20 years ago.
“At the time I remember being frustrated that when they replanted, they insisted that all of the trees be Ash,” she said. In her own yard, Day has planted Hackberry and River Burst tree. “I do see that when you plant a tree, you get to watch it grow,” she said. “For me – I love trees. I hate the sound of a chainsaw taking down those trees. When I see the red stripe around the tree I say a prayer of thanks to every tree.”