The Vermillion City Council recently received an introductory lesson on the emerald ash borer (EAB) from Vermillion Parks and Recreation Director Jim Goblirsch and Vermillion Street Superintendent Pete Jahn who also serves as the city’s tree specialist.

In a nutshell, aldermen learned that no ash trees in Vermillion have been affected yet. But, the bug is coming – it’s currently affecting ash trees in Sioux Falls – and that means the community must take steps to prepare for the insect’s eventual arrival here.

“The emerald ash borer was found and confirmed in northern Minnehaha County a month ago, and that includes northern Sioux Falls, basically,” Goblirsch said told aldermen at their noon meeting last month. “Those were the first cases that were confirmed here in South Dakota. Pete and myself are basically trying to stay ahead of the game and we want to let you know that we are addressing this issue. We are using the resources from the State of South Dakota. We work with John Ball, the state arborist and also a few other people that are more in our region.”

Goblirsch distributed information from the USDA and the South Dakota Department of Agriculture that includes information about EAB, the insects’ fatal effect on ash trees and the proper course for communities like Vermillion to follow to deal with the problem.

“It’s going to come to Vermillion eventually. We’re not going to say that we can stop it or quarantine it because it’s going to come here one way or the other,” Goblirsch said.

The two men noted that once ash trees show signs that they are being affected by EAB, there is little that can be done to save the tree.

“It depends on how much crown die-back there is, and it starts up high so you probably are not going to catch it,” Jahn said. “It starts up in the top and by the time you start to see it, the tree will probably be too far gone. It’s recommended not to treat ash trees unless the EAB is within 15 miles (of Vermillion). So if anybody is calling trying to sell treatments in Vermillion, it is not needed now and I do not recommend it.”

Jahn added that city staff has yet to decide whether to allow private citizens to treat affected trees growing in city boulevards on public property.

“Right now if somebody called me with an ash tree (in the boulevard) they wanted removed I do not question it. I’ll take a look at it and I’ll say yes, we’ll remove it,” he said. “It’s our responsibility.”

Treatments are available that can save ash trees from EAB, but they are expensive.

“The small trees – the treatment runs right at about $200 and for large trees, the treatment costs about $350 and up,” Jahn said. “It’s quite costly. Once you start treating a tree, you’ll have to treat it for life because there is a 100 percent mortality rate (without the treatment).”

He said he is receiving calls from local people with ash trees on their property who want them removed.

“A lot of these are low value (trees),” Jahn said. “What I mean by that is you might have some crown die-back already, or they are small, they aren’t providing a lot of shade and they aren’t pruned properly.

“Ash trees aren’t a good looking tree, really, to begin with,” he said. “One of the running jokes is that when you go to an affected tree, they look dead. Well, half of them look dead already. They’re just not a good looking tree.”

Sioux Falls is quite busy, Jahn said, making preparations for what it eventually will have to do as the city’s ash trees are affected by EAB.

“I talked to the regional state forester up there and he does not have the Sioux Falls plan, yet,” Jahn said. “Sioux Falls, I believe, has not released a complete action plan, yet.”

Jahn was asked what the city and individuals should do with wood from affected trees.

“This is something we’ll be looking at. Any of the brush has to be chipped down inch by inch to make it usable mulch to kill the larvae. Firewood would have to be kiln dried which is expensive,” he said. “The main trunks can be shaved down. A certain amount of outer layers can be removed and then that is destroyed. The rest of the wood then can be safe.”

Vermillion has from 500 to 550 ash trees on property within the realm of city government, such as public right-of-ways and parks, Jahn said.

“What does a private homeowner do with the wood once he cuts down a tree?” asked Alderman Howard Willson.

“Well, we would first have to come to you guys,” Pete said, addressing city council members. “We would definitely have to work with the state to provide an area and then we would have to try to find an outlet. Right now, with a bunch of the trees we’ve cut down we have a firewood burning pile and no ash from that will go anywhere. I don’t want to be that guy that might accidently spread the ash borer.

“We have a pile that is ground and chipped and a pallet company out of Sioux Falls does it for us. That’s possibly an outlet, but they would have to get that chipped down to that fine, inch-by-inch size and then it can be used for mulch,” he said.

Vermillion citizens planted ash trees to replace elm trees that were wiped out years ago by Dutch Elm Disease. Ash is the most common tree in the city’s boulevards, followed by hackberry trees, Jahn said.

He explained that the tree guide developed by the city several years ago explains that ash trees haven’t been allowed to be planted in the city since about 2014 when reports were received that the emerald ash borer would someday be affecting trees in Vermillion.

“The borer was found in the United States in 2002,” Jahn said. “Ash trees are large part of the canopy in Vermillion.”

“What should people who have them on their private property never do with these?” asked Alderman Tom Sorensen. “In other words, isn’t the way to spread this best is to ship firewood?”

“Yes, firewood,” Jahn replied. “Right now the state has a campaign with fliers that state ‘buy it where you burn it.’ I’m going to talk to the people who manage the Clay County Park and see if they have kiosks out there and if they don’t already have these, we’re going to supply them with a number of these free fliers.

“With the proximity to Yankton, and with the busiest campground in South Dakota being Gavins Point, it’s quite worrisome,” he said. “Right now, the only state quarantine is up in Sioux Falls; they have not gone federal yet. Once it goes federal, it has a little more teeth.”

The EAB flies about a mile a year on its own.

“They’re not a good traveler. We are their best traveler. People will take firewood and move it,” Jahn said.

While no ash trees in Vermillion have been affected by the borer, “it has surrounded us,” he said. “It’s just a matter of time. I can’t guess when it may get here or how long it will take to get through Sioux Falls. Someone might move a student down here from Sioux Falls and, perhaps being unaware of the risks, and bring a firewood log down here for a firepit. That’s how easily it (EAB) can be moved.”

“A few years back we revised the tree ordinance a little bit and clarified a few things,” Goblirsch said. “We removed all of the ash trees from available trees to plant. That’s one of the big things we can do; it’s kind of a reactive type of situation, but no ash trees are being planted, at least by the city, and we aren’t encouraging homeowners to plant them. We’ve worked to diversify the types of trees that are planted in the city.”

Presently, there are no plans to change any city ordinances pertaining to firewood.

“I’m not saying that couldn’t come to fruition later on,” Goblirsch told aldermen. “I do want to forewarn you – some of the communities around us have been getting beat up a little bit for removing ash trees. They look like a perfectly healthy tree and they have been removed by some communities from high visibility areas.

“Basically, what Pete is looking at doing and we’re supporting is when the emerald ash borer comes here, he doesn’t have the people or the means to take down 500 trees,” he said.

“Once they start, you basically have two years,” Jahn said.

“And when the beetle does come, the trees deteriorate quickly, they become very fragile and brittle and they are dangerous to take down,” Goblirsch said. “We’re trying to stay ahead of this so you will see trees being removed this off-season or winter season and they’re going to be visible trees.

“It’s sad, yes. I have recommended to the administration here that we increase our tree budget for the city to try to start repopulating trees at a higher rate than what’s typical,” he said. “That may be through homeowners doing it themselves … or it may be the city and our staff planting trees. Barstow Park is heavily laden with ash trees and some of the trees we need to take down so we can plant new ones.”

Without thinning some of the trees in areas such parks, new trees that are planted won’t thrive.

“We have to take these things down, and when we talk about cutting down trees, it means stump removal,” Goblirsch said. “It’s going to be an expensive project for our community. Sioux Falls is looking at over $11 million (for ash tree removal and new tree planting).”

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did the emerald ash borer come from?

The natural range of Agrilus planipennis, or the emerald ash borer, is eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea. Before June of 2002, it had never been found in North America.

How did it get here?

We don't know for sure, but it most likely came in ash wood used for stabilizing cargo in ships or for packing or crating heavy consumer products.

What types of trees does the emerald ash borer attack?

In North America, ash trees are the only tree species to be attacked by EAB. Trees in woodlots, as well as landscaped areas, are affected. Larval galleries have been found in trees or branches measuring as little as 1-inch in diameter. All species of North American ash appear to be susceptible. EAB was also found in white fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) in an area of Ohio in 2015, though widespread attack of white fringetree has not been reported.

Where has it been found?

In 2002, EAB was first found in six counties in southeastern Michigan, but as the ability to detect and find EAB improved, the number of EAB finds in different states and areas of Canada has risen. EAB infestations are now found in 31 states, as well as the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario, making EAB an international pest problem. It is important to watch for signs and symptoms of EAB in areas where it hasn’t been seen before.

What happens to infested ash trees?

The leafy canopy of infested ash trees will begin to look thin. EAB chews through the tree’s water and nutrient-conducting tissues, strangling the tree. If there is a high population of EAB in the tree, the leafy canopy in ash trees will start to die. A third to a half of the branches may die in one year. Most of the canopy will be dead within 2 years of when symptoms are first seen. Sometimes ash trees push out sprouts from the trunk after the upper portions of the tree dies. The adult beetles will leave a “D”-shaped hole in the bark, roughly 1/8 inch in diameter, when they emerge in June.

What do emerald ash borers look like?

The adult beetle is dark metallic green in color, 1/2 inch-long and 1/8 inch wide. This guide has photos and other good information on the beetle.

How is this pest spread?

We know EAB adults can fly at least 1/2 mile from the ash tree where they emerge. Many infestations began when people moved infested ash trees from nurseries, logs, or firewood to other areas that did not have infestations. Shipments of ash nursery trees and ash logs with bark are now regulated, and transporting firewood outside of the quarantined areas is illegal, but transport of infested firewood remains a problem.

PLEASE - do not move any ash firewood or logs outside of the quarantined area.

How long has the emerald ash borer been in North America?

Research has shown that EAB was infesting ash trees in Michigan 10 to 12 years before its initial discovery in 2002. The initial infestation probably started from a small number of beetles. Over the next few years, the population began to build and spread. By 2002, many trees in southeastern Michigan were dead or dying. In North America, native ash trees have little or no resistance to EAB, and natural enemies have so far had little effect when EAB populations are high.

How big a problem is emerald ash borer?

EAB is now considered the most destructive forest pest ever seen in North America. The scope of this problem will reach the billions of dollars nationwide if not dealt with. State and federal agencies have made this problem a priority. Homeowners can also help by carefully monitoring their ash trees for signs and symptoms of EAB throughout the year.

Information courtesy of the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network.

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