States Struggle to Control Ash Borer

  • The emerald ash borer is killing ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Ontario... and scientists say all the ash in North America is at risk if the beetle can't be stopped. (Photo courtesy of USFS)

A tiny green beetle is killing millions of ash trees. And so far nobody’s
found a way to stop it in its tracks. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports cities and states are struggling to find money to keep the beetle from spreading:


A tiny green beetle is killing millions of ash trees. And so far nobody’s
found a way to stop it in its tracks. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams
reports cities and states are struggling to find money to keep the beetle
from spreading:

Once emerald ash borers chew their way into your ash trees, there’s
pretty much only one thing you can do.

(Sound of chainsaw and tree cracking and falling)

Crews here have been sawing down and chipping up trees six days a
week. In some places, crews are cutting down both dead and live trees.
Dead trees are a safety hazard. Cutting live trees near infested areas can
help contain the beetles.

The emerald ash borer is native to China. Scientists think it got in on
wood packing crates more than ten years ago. The emerald ash borer eats
through the living part of the tree just underneath the bark. The beetles
cut off the tree’s water and food supply… so it starves to death. 15
million ash trees are dead or dying in Michigan. Hundreds of thousands
are dying in Ohio, Indiana and Ontario, and it could spread to other states

Some cities have been hit really hard. For example, some of the trees in
Ann Arbor, Michigan have been dead for a couple of years. Kay
Sichenader is the city’s forester. She says she’s worried about limbs
breaking off trees, or bark falling off in 80 pound chunks.

“There’s some terrifically bad ones out there. Nothing will make me
happier than when those trees are down, I gotta tell you.”

This isn’t the first time cities have lost big shade trees. Dutch elm
disease almost wiped out American elms in the 1960’s and 70’s. It’s a
little ironic: people planted ash trees to replace the elms because they
thought ash trees were invincible.

That love of ash trees means cities are losing 20 or 30 percent of their
trees, and they’re spending millions of dollars to take trees out.

Forester Kay Sichenader says her city normally takes out a thousand old
trees a year. Now, she’s got ten times as many trees to cut down.

“If I never bumped it up, and we just remained with our thousand a year,
we would never change because it would take me ten years to get the ash
out. In the meantime I’d have 10,000 more dead trees to deal with. It’s

Sichenader says the city’s trying to get the dead ash trees out as fast as
they can. She’s contracted five extra crews to saw down trees. She
hopes they’ll be done by the end of the year, but it might be longer.

Many homeowners are getting impatient. They’re worried about big
branches falling on their cars or homes. Or worse, falling on their kids.

Laura Lee Hayes lives in a cul-de-sac with four infested ash trees. She
points out a big branch on her neighbor’s dead tree.

“This whole piece is just laying here, ready to pull off, and there are
small children that play in this yard. That’s why I look to my city to get
over here and get these trees down. There’s a real frightening aspect to

Hayes says she tried to pay to take the trees down herself, but she found
out it would’ve cost more than a thousand dollars.

In Indiana, homeowners now have to spend their own money to get rid of
dead trees in their yards. State officials say they can’t afford to keep
cutting down live ash trees to slow the infestation. The state won’t be
giving money to help cities cut down dead trees either. That could mean
the emerald ash borer will spread unchecked.

At first, the federal government sent states several million dollars to fight
the beetle, but now the money’s just trickling in. In 2004, Michigan
Governor Jennifer Granholm asked President Bush to declare the state a
federal disaster area. That request was denied. Recently, officials in
Ohio and Michigan said they’ll have to cut back on containing new

These trends worry scientists.

Deb McCullough is a forest entomologist at Michigan State University.
She says states barely have enough money to monitor how far the beetle’s
spreading, and she says a lot more money’s needed for ad campaigns to
tell people to stop moving firewood. The beetle spreads fastest when
campers or hunters move infested wood.

“You have to look down the road, and either you spend millions of
dollars today to try to contain emerald ash borer or we’re going to be
looking at losses in the tens of billions of dollars in the future, and it’s not
too distant of a future.”

McCullough says if more funding doesn’t come in states might need to
have timber sales to take ash out before the beetle kills it. And cities will
still be paying millions of dollars to take out dead trees. That means
people who live in those cities might see cuts in other programs or have
to pay higher taxes.

Deb McCullough says the economic impacts are serious… but the
environmental impacts could be even worse. She says it’s hard to know
how wildlife might be affected if we continue to lose millions of ash

For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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