Ash-tree killing emerald ash borer closing in; found in Waterloo now

Tree removal, destruction more noticeable in cities, official says

City of Cedar Rapids worker Dave Elsbury gathers logs into a log loader after an ash tree was cut down at 5616 D Avenue
City of Cedar Rapids worker Dave Elsbury gathers logs into a log loader after an ash tree was cut down at 5616 D Avenue NW in Cedar Rapids in February 2010. 300 ash trees were cut down by the city to try and prevent the Emerald Ash Borer infestation. (Julie Koehn/The Gazette)

Your ash tree is closer to being next.

State foresters and entomologists on Tuesday descended once again, this time in Waterloo, where the ash-killing emerald ash borer has been newly found in ash trees in a 10-by-10-block area on the city’s northeast side.

Waterloo is the sixth spot in Iowa where the native Asian pest has now been found in the midst of its killing ways.

The discoveries are coming as expected — fast and furious. Five communities, including Mechanicsville in Cedar County just east of Linn County and the Cedar Rapids metro area, have found the ash killer in seven months.

"This is a devastating blow to Waterloo’s tree resources," Todd Derifield, Waterloo’s urban forester, said on Tuesday of his city’s discovery and Iowa’s newest one.

He estimated that the city would be lose 17 percent of its trees on public property in the next few years — 2,990 along street rights of way, 649 on three golf courses and 725 in city parks.

Todd Fagan, Cedar Rapids city arborist, has estimated that 18 to 30 percent or 12,000 to 20,000 of the trees in the Cedar Rapids rights of way are ashes. That doesn’t include ashes in parks and on golf courses.

Both Waterloo and Cedar Rapids have been removing ash trees in poor health for a few years, and in Cedar Rapids, the city has brought down and replaced between 1,000 and 1,200 ashes since 2010.

Waterloo’s Derifield said Waterloo may have to pick up the tree-cutting pace in the next few years as trees begin to die in great number.

Dave Elgin, Cedar Rapids public works director, said Tuesday that the city isn’t going to accelerate its pace of taking down ash trees. It will continue to cut down about 400 a year, he said. He said the city will spend $150,000 in the new budget year to replace trees, the same dollar figure as the current budget year.

In December, state officials announced the discovery of the ash borer in Creston in southern Iowa. Two months earlier, the killer bug turned up in Mechanicsville. In August 2013, it was found in Fairfield in Jefferson County, and a month earlier, in Burlington. The bug first appeared in Iowa in May 2010 in Allamakee County.

Robin Pruisner, state entomologist, said Tuesday that the advancement of the ash borer in Waterloo trees indicates that the bug got "a foothold" in the city "several" years ago.

With the Waterloo announcement, the state’s Emerald Ash Borer Team on Tuesday extended its 25-county quarantine on the movement of ash products, put in place on Nov. 1, to all 99 Iowa counties.

"A statewide quarantine was determined to be the most practical option for refocusing Iowa’s activities on planning and implementation of proactive measures to prepare for emerald ash borer in our urban forests," Pruisner said.

City crews trimming trees found the insect in three trees in Waterloo, but forester Derifield said there is damage to about three dozen ash trees in the blocks nearby.

Paul Tauke, state forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, on Tuesday had only grim news for Iowa’s ash trees.

"Bottom line is, if it (the ash borer) behaves in Iowa like it has everywhere else, I would expect 99.99 percent of the ash trees to no longer be here in 20 years," he said.

The state estimates that it has 55 million ash trees.

Tauke said the destruction will be most noticeable and most costly in cities, where there are an estimated 3.1 million ash trees. Private property owners will face the cost of removing dead ashes on their property.

Tauke said the damage will be less noticeable in Iowa’s rural woodlands where ash trees are "a relatively minor component" of Iowa’s forests. A walker in the woods will see dead or dying ash scattered about, but those driving by on the highway won’t notice much, he said. He said a gypsy moth infestation that defoliates oaks would have a much larger visual impact should it occur.

The state’s Emerald Ash Borer Team — comprised of experts from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the DNR, the Iowa State University Extension and the U.S. Department of Agriculture — spoke in Cedar Rapids and other communities last fall to tell residents about options to try to protect individual trees against the ash borer.

The statewide quarantine will not stop the spread of the emerald ash borer, but could slow the spread and make the quarantine easier for residents and business to understand, the state’s Pruisner said on Tuesday.The quarantine restricts the movement of ash firewood, logs, wood chips and nursery stock out of Iowa. However, Pruisner encouraged Iowans not to transport ash wood across county lines because moving firewood poses the greatest threat to quickly spreading the emerald ash borer.

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