“It’s a big ‘ash’ problem.” -Mayor Mike Wiza.
By Jacob Mathias
Future treatment for the emerald ash borer, an invasive species of beetle that kills ash trees, was approved for funding by the Stevens Point Finance Committee on Monday.
City Forester Todd Ernster said that the ash borer first came to the United States in 2002 and made its first appearance in Wisconsin in 2008. The EAB cause damage in the trees due to larval feeding, which restricts the ability for the trees to absorb their own nutrients.
“There’s no control for it at this point other than if you chemically treat the trees,” said Ernster. “If you don’t plan on treating ash trees eventually they’re going to end up dying once the insect gets a foothold in the community.”
He said the ash trees will die within a four to five year span once the EAB are established in the area.
Stevens Point currently has 921 ash trees along city streets and 325 in the parks.
In a memo to the committee, Comptroller Corey Ladick said that the city had unassigned funds that could be used to treat the EAB and he would be comfortable assigning up to $570,000 though $400,000 was ultimately approved by the committee.
The costs proposed for treatment are spread over a 15 year time span.
“Once the EAB comes through, when its at its peak, you’ll have to treat at least 10 years,” said Ernster. “They’re hoping by that time, by the time we get through that cycle, the population will be low enough where you won’t have to treat as often.”
“It will usually kill all the ash trees in a community and has been a struggle for a lot of municipalities,” said Ladick.
Ernster said that the EAB was most closely found in Adams County but has yet to be seen in Portage County.
“We could find it tomorrow and it might not be for four or five years,” said Ernster.
“It is a big ash problem,” joked Mayor Mike Wiza.
A few different plans were proposed by Ernster including chemically treating the trees each year which would prevent the EAB from settling into the treated trees as well as removing and replacing the ash trees. A combination of the two options is most likely and was recommended by Ladick.
The plan approved by the committee would call for treating 520 high profile ash trees the removal of 725 and replanting with a different species.
“So remove the more marginal trees and then preserve more of the high profile trees, the high quality trees, the trees on the main streets,” said Ladick.
Street-side ash trees are frequent along Stevens Point’s Main St. and Ernster said those would be first to be preserved through treatment because of the complications with removing them instead. It is recommended that treatment begin once EAB are spotted within 15 miles of the proposed treatment area.
There are currently moratoriums on the transportation of firewood in an attempt to slow the spread of EAB. Ernster said it only takes one piece of stray firewood to bring EAB problems to a clean area.
Ash trees are no longer being planted in the city and Ernster said he is working on diversifying tree species in the city.
“I have a question about the toxicity of these various chemicals to people and to animals and to honeybees,” said 9th District Alder Mary McComb.
Ernster said that the chemical he’s looking to use would be injected directly into the tree so there would be no exposure to other insects.
Funds for treatment go to common council next Monday for final approval.