Government

Emerald ash borer now 'widespread' throughout Cedar Rapids

City has been preparing for mass loss of ash trees

(File photo) Larval galleries made by the emerald ash borer larvae can be seen on a recently inspected ash tree at the I-380 northbound rest stop in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
(File photo) Larval galleries made by the emerald ash borer larvae can be seen on a recently inspected ash tree at the I-380 northbound rest stop in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids officials advised on Wednesday the exotic Emerald Ash Borer beetle that is deadly to ash trees is now widespread throughout the urban area, meaning more and more ash trees will be taken down across the city and residents should decide what to do about their own ash trees.

Confirmed infestations have been identified along Edgewood Road, south of Ellis Boulevard; along Glass Road, east of Edgewood Road; near 27th Avenue, west of I-380; and along 33rd Avenue, west of Sixth Street SW. Since 2009, the city has been taking proactive steps to slow the spread, but at this point the approach will pivot to reaction, said Todd Fagan, city arborist.

“Emerald ash borer is a progression of the insect population, and you have to react as the population increases,” Fagan said.

More staff resources will be devoted to taking down ash trees with a priority on those that are dead or declining, he said. The city maintains about 7,000 ash trees and they will all eventually be removed, likely over five to 10 years depending on how quickly the trees decay, he said.

This week, crews plan to conduct removals on 51st Street NE near Theisens.

Homeowners wishing to treat trees — treatment is an ongoing process — in the right of way near their homes to slow the infestation process can do so but should first contact Fagan at 319-286-5747 so the city knows not to remove it. Trees with storm damage or other safety concerns will need to be removed, regardless of treatment, according to the city.

The city also advised that homeowners are responsible for all ash trees on their personal property, and while they should contact private contractors to confirm the species and develop a plan to treat or remove the trees, they should beware of scammers price gouging or guaranteeing their treatment will save the tree.

“We are past the point of waiting,” he said. “You need to decide what you want to do with the ash tree before Mother Nature decides for you.”

Residents can attend an informational workshop with experts on the disease on July 10, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. in Time Check Hall at the City Services Center, 500 15th Avenue SW. More information about emerald ash borer is available at the city’s website at cedar-rapids.org/EAB.

The beetle’s larvae embeds and destroys the inner bark of ash trees, sapping moisture and causing the trees to fall apart. The spread was expected after it was first discovered in city limits at a rest stop on Interstate 380 in 2015. The number of cases quickly mounted with several new cases discovered this year.

The city has taken a number of steps to manage its ash trees, which account for 18 percent of the total population of city-owned trees along streets. The city has 43,000 trees listed in a tree directory.

Precautionary steps have included treatment to prolong their life and removal of decaying trees to slow the spread, including more than 300 so far this year and perhaps up to a another 500 before January. The city has been diversifying its tree stock through planting 25 to 30 different species to compensate for the eventual mass loss of ash.

With such a great loss of trees one challenge will be to find a company with the capacity to keep up with planting replacements, Fagan said.

The Iowa State University Extension announced last week the beetle had been discovered in four more Iowa counties — Hardin, Pottawattamie, Hamilton and Buchanan — bringing the total to 61 of 99 counties where the beetle has been detected since the pest was spotted in the state in 2011.

Robin Pruisner, state entomologist for Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, said the situation is Cedar Rapids is familiar with what communities around the state are dealing with.

“That is a very common scenario,” Pruisner said. “It is common for an infestation to be active for three four five years old before we find it. At some point in time there is a tipping point where it is very obvious. Rather than a tree that is not as full as it was in the past, you have a tree with a lot of dead branches or dead trees.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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