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Our money doesn’t grow on trees

Published: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 11:16 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 11:57 a.m. CST

Whether it’s too much rain, not enough rain, floods, mud slides, wild land fires, pestilence, disease or whatever the disaster might be, the wrath of Mother Nature is most often dictated by man’s ignorance and mistakes. Such is the case with the Emerald Ash Borer, and I absolutely guarantee you that within a few years this tree pest will be here, in central Iowa, as it moves north and westward across the state.

My undergraduate degree was in forestry at Utah State University, and checking my entomology class books, EAB is not mentioned. Sure enough, the little iridescent green critter is native to eastern Asia, and wasn’t even noticed until 2002 when it was found in ash trees just outside of Detroit, Mich.

Apparently, the beetle came across the ocean in wooden pallets, and soon was boring through the bark and into the life blood of a tree, located in the cambium.

The beetle has moved across Michigan, Wisconsin, has infested parts of Illinois and Indiana as it moves in all directions in search of white, green and black ash trees.  Allamakee County in northeast Iowa was declared infested by the Department of Natural Resources in 2010, the City of Burlington in far southeast Iowa in July of this year, and now the City of Fairfield, in Jefferson County has been invaded by this devastating insect.

There is no known way of fighting this menace. Since there are an estimated 55 million ash trees of the three species in Iowa, not a single one is immune from being girdled by the EAB.

The advance across the state will continue, and the only alternative is to slow it down. This can be partially accomplished by a quarantine calling for campers and others to not transport firewood from infected areas.

That’s a pretty flimsy admonition, for the insect and its offspring can move by their own wings. In short time they will invade most areas where ash trees are located.

It is estimated that Iowa’s communities have slightly more than 3 million ash trees, which essentially were the species planted to replace the elm lost to the Dutch elm disease of years ago. 

The cost to homeowners, municipalities any land management agencies of state or federal jurisdiction is estimated to be $3 billion to remove and dispose of dead trees and replant and care for a different species.

Oak cannot be the replacement, for we have oak wilt ravaging Iowa. Regardless of the species, who can say a new insect or pathogen won’t repeat the process?

Trees do so much for all life, extracting carbon dioxide from the air, reducing the temperature with their summer shade, breaking up wind patterns, serving as the food and habitat source for a plethora of wildlife species, and many advantages too numerous to mention. 

This is just one more thing we must contend with in the current decade, and the costs for most of the removal and re-planting will essentially be borne by the taxpayer. Yes, there will surely be grants-in-aid to cities and counties to do the job, but that doesn’t change the fact that we will foot the bill.

After all, money doesn’t grow on trees.

• • •

Any questions or comments, e-mail me at dblack@black4senate.com or call (515) 975-8608.

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