Citizens aim to raise awareness about emerald ash borer

Published 7:02 am Wednesday, March 31, 2010

If the history of the emerald ash borer beetle is any indication, it would come as no surprise to see the pest spread all across the country.

That’s why some people in Austin and the surrounding area are aiming to raise awareness about the bug in an effort to ready citizens for the threat.

Native to Asia, the emerald ash borer, or EAB, is an invasive bug that burrows underneath the bark of ash trees. Small infestations can often be dealt with, but a horde of the beetles can kill an ash tree relatively quickly.

Emerald ash borers were first discovered in Minnesota last spring in a St. Paul park, and have since turned up in Minneapolis and Houston County. But Minnesota is just one of 13 states confirmed to have EAB, the first being Michigan in 2002.

Though researchers think the beetle may have been in the U.S before 2002 but simply went undetected, those numbers still point toward a pest that is spreading.

Cory Peterson, co-owner of Peterson Tree Service in Wells, Minn., is among a number of people working to keep that from happening.

Peterson became a Forest Pest First Detector in 2008. The First Detector program, which is run by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the University of Minnesota, trains people to become volunteer bug spotters. There are currently about 240 detectors state-wide, but none in Mower County — though there are a handful in nearby counties, including Peterson, who hails from Faribault County.

He said the program came about as a proactive response to the bug’s increasing presence in the Midwest.

“ It was basically spurred by the problem,” Peterson said. “They didn’t know what the bug was.”

So, people began to learn, largely through hands-on demonstrations. With the training, Peterson is able to quickly distinguish EAB holes — they’re characterized by “D”-shaped marks — from non-EAB holes. From there, he is able to take the proper steps to deal with the threat if one exists.

So far, Peterson hasn’t gotten any calls through the program — reports are screened by the MDA, and the department can often determine false alarms without sending someone into the field — but the idea is to be ready if and when the beetle starts popping up in Austin and the surrounding area.

However, Peterson isn’t sitting idly by. Because he has learned so much about EAB through being a First Detector, he is starting to incorporate that training into his business: In the coming spring months, Peterson will for the first time offer a chemical treatment service to customers that should keep the beetle away.

Peterson said in years past he wouldn’t have had enough demand to warrant buying the chemical. But now, he said he anticipates more and more EAB calls, and he wants to be ready.

“People are starting to get more aware of it,” he said. “I just want to get in to begin with.”

But paying for a chemical treatment isn’t a necessity quite yet, said Aimee Whiteaker.

Whiteaker is the garden center manager at Dolan’s Landscaping in Austin and will be the presenter at an upcoming seminar focused largely on EAB preparation.

She said chemical treatments can be spendy and time-consuming, and might be overkill with the bug not yet reported in the area.

“The best thing to do now is to keep ash trees healthy,” Whiteaker said. “Emerald ash borers will attack old ones first.”

Whiteaker said people with older ash trees may want to consider replacing them. She also said that it’s a good idea to break up densely wooded ash areas with other types of trees, which adds diversity and makes the beetle’s path more difficult.

But these measures do not ensure the EAB will stay away from Austin. Having been with Dolan’s for four years, Whiteaker said she’s seen the pest go from an afterthought to a very real threat.

“Now, it’s more, ‘How do we prevent it from getting into my tree?’” she said.

If the bug does start being spotted closer by — like in Rochester, Whiteaker said — then chemical treatments might be the only real option. That’s because once a tree has been thoroughly infested, there is no other choice but to cut it down, the garden expert said.

And that’s exactly what people like Whiteaker and Peterson don’t want to see.

“I’m trying to get people aware of what to do,” Peterson said, because “I don’t like cutting down trees.”

Preparing for the emerald ash borer locally

What: Treating the Emerald Ash Borer and Green Lawn Maintenance

When: Thursday, April 8, 6:30 p.m.

Where: Dolan’s Landscape Center in Austin

Cost: Free

Why: A seminar for people interested in learning about ways to save their ash trees from the invasive pest