CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids property owners are dealing with a slow-moving natural disaster that comes in the form of a tiny beetle.
Roughly two weeks after officials announced the emerald ash borer now was widespread in Cedar Rapids and the city was embarking on an ambitious plan to eventually cut down all 7,000 or so ash trees on its land, property owners gathered Tuesday evening with experts to contemplate what they should be doing and what resources are available to help them.
Tom Journot, 58, who lives in the northwest quadrant, said he has six major ash trees that line the back of his property. While he has yet to decide how he’ll handle the epidemic, he said he believed he might be in better shape than some other property owners because the trees can be felled without posing a danger to structures.
“It’s going to kill all the trees eventually,” Journot said. “Those can be dropped so I can take care of cutting them and getting rid of them, so I’m probably in better shape than somebody whose got houses all around ...”
Joe Leone, 62, said there are ash trees along the street but has a mountain ash in his backyard — which he’s learning won’t be affected by the epidemic.
“Some of these trees are 20, 30 years old,” Leone said. “It is kind of a key thing for not having to water as much. The house doesn’t get quite as hot because these trees are big enough (to provide shade). So to kind of start that over again is like a little bit daunting in some ways.”
They were among about 50 residents who attended a city forum to learn more about the exotic pest that has now been spotted in most Iowa counties, and what options they face in slowing the spread. The larvae of the emerald ash borer embeds itself in the inner bark of ash trees and eventually destroys the tree. The pest was first spotted in this county in 2002 in Michigan.
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The “impact of this bug, man, we don’t know. Honestly we don’t know what the impact is ecologically, environmentally, across the board, because we’re now in a huge experiment going on,” said Mark Shour with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, one of the experts at the forum.
Property owners with ash trees have a number of options to respond to the epidemic, including treating or removing ash trees and planting a new, more diverse selection.
ISU Extension and Outreach publishes guides on ash tree management and treatment options, including finding professionals to administer treatments, on its website at extension.iastate.edu/psep/emeraldashborer.
Many of the chemical options for prevention must be done in the spring, but trunk injections are a possibility now through August for healthy trees.
Mark Vitosh, a district forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said that if ash trees aren’t treated, they will die from the pest. Residents may have a few years before their ashes succumb to the emerald ash borer to plant replacement trees.
Trees Forever, a nonprofit in Marion, published a homeowners guide to help residents choose the best tree type to replace their ashes. It explains property owners should consider utilities, goals and soil types among other factors. Find a fact sheet at treesforever.org/EAB.
A few grant programs exist for residents who hope to plant trees on their private properties or at places like schools or cemeteries. A list of grants is published on the city’s website, cedar-rapids.org, under the forestry section.
STATUS AND IMPACT
The pest spread to Iowa in 2010 and has since been found in 61 counties, including Linn and Johnson.
“We should start seeing quite a bit of activity here of ash trees dying,” Shour said.
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Cedar Rapids has enacted an emerald ash borer plan. Crews are working to treat the healthiest mid-sized trees to preserve them to be removed later. Cutting down the biggest and smallest on city land now has priority.
Other Corridor communities including Iowa City and Coralville also have plans, though the pest has not been declared to be widespread in those communities.
In Iowa City, when the city began its emerald ash borer plan, it had about 2,000 ash trees on public property.
The federal government has spent more than $38 million related to the pest, with local governments investing $850 million and property owners spending $350 million, over the 30 states infected by the beetle, Shour said.
“EAB is the most destructive insect that we’ve seen in our country. Period,” Shour said.
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