BURLINGTON — Forestry experts from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources are helping Burlington officials establish a plan for dealing with a destructive beetle that is expected to kill the city's ash trees.
The DNR sent 41 forestry staff members to Burlington this week to assess tree health and help city staff determine which trees need to be removed, which may be treated, and those that can remain until additional funding is available for removal.
The emerald ash borer, a small green wood boring beetle has been found in Iowa in Allamakee County in northeast Iowa, in Burlington, and Fairfield.
Trees attacked by the beetle can die within two years and an entire community's ash tree population can be wiped out within seven years. Burlington has 900 publicly owned ash trees in parks and along streets.
"In five to seven years, most — if not all — of the ash trees in Burlington will die from infestation of EAB," said Tivon Feeley, DNR Forest Health Program Leader. "Residential landowners that have ash trees should begin planting replacement tree species now. That way the new trees get a few years' growth before currently large, healthy appearing ash trees succumb to EAB."
A federal program is paying for the DNR to help cities of under 5,000 citizens with tree inventories, said Paul Tauke, DNR Forestry Bureau Chief. Funding for public tree removal and planting of replacement tree species is currently left to cities to figure out.
"How Burlington meets the challenge in times of tight budgets will set the stage for how Iowans confront EAB infestation as it spreads across the state. The best we can do is to try to slow EAB movement," Tauke said.
Most emerald ash borer infestations have been caused by people unknowingly moving infested firewood, nursery plants and sawmill logs across county and state lines. In Nebraska, officials have begun a voluntary firewood restriction to help stem the tree onslaught.
The beetles, which are native to Asia and about the size of a penny, and were first detected in Michigan in 2002. Since then the insects have killed more than 50 million trees as the infestation moves from state to state, a DNR report said.
Burlington, with a population of more than 25,000, is the largest city in Iowa with evidence of the emerald ash borer in its urban forest, Feeley said.
The state also will be confronted with the issue of what to do with dead infested trees. The DNR estimates that ash trees are about 15 percent of Iowa's urban and rural forests.
"That's a lot of wood in a relatively short time to make decisions about," Tauke said.
The U.S. Forest Service 2008 inventory indicated that there are 52 million woodland ash trees and 3.1 million urban ash trees in Iowa.