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Burney Fischer
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Jenny Cohen
School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Last modified: Monday, January 30, 2006

A destructive beetle’s appearance in Hamilton County has implications for the region

Jan. 30, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Emerald Ash Borer, the beetle responsible for killing at least 8 to 10 million ash trees in three Midwestern states, has now been found in Hamilton County. The Indiana Department of National Resources has issued an emergency order to restrict the movement of ash products in Hamilton and Marion counties.

"The impact of Emerald Ash Borer on cities and towns will be the real focal point," said Burney Fischer, a forestry professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University. "The loss of trees, particularly where they might be concentrated, will be devastating. The cost of tree removal and disposal by cities, towns and homeowners will be huge. This is a big public policy issue. Cities must have tree emergency plans in place to prepare for this kind of situation."

Marc Lame, a lecturer at SPEA whose focus is on pest management programs, believes that city plans should include how to get information to homeowners about the problem so they can watch out for ash borers on their own properties. "Education is the key to preventing and/or delaying the onset of infestations," Lame said. "With this invasive species, our leaders should educate community members on how to limit the transportation of any ash trees -- dead or alive -- prior to the infestation."

Lame also believes cities should look into ways to recycle ash trees for the community. "If there is a significant infestation, it would be interesting to develop a plan whereby the non-infested pieces of wood could become a resource to the community in the form of fuel or other products to decrease the extra expense to our waste management," he said. "While losing trees can be negative, those dead and dying trees can also provide positive returns for the rest of our community."

In the immediate future, Fischer suggests that homeowners, particularly those in the affected counties, check their ash trees this spring for signs that they are under stress, such as a sparse or partial crown of leaves or splitting bark. Also, since ash trees are least susceptible to infestation when they are healthy, homeowners can help protect their ash trees with mulching and frequent watering.

There is no known way to get rid of the larvae once they have attacked a tree. Most trees infested with the Emerald Ash Borer will die within two years. To keep the ash borer from spreading, quarantines and restrictions on the movement of ash products, such as the ones implemented by the DNR, need to be maintained as well as persistent monitoring of the infestations to track the movement of these pests.

In addition, Fischer suggested three possible ways to reduce the problem, but these would most likely require money and time to develop. His suggestions include:

  • Find a naturally occurring pest in Asia that is safe to introduce into the United States to control the ash borer, which would be a long-term process.
  • Find a cost-effective pesticide that can be used to protect ash trees in high-value places like cities and towns. The environmental implications are unknown.
  • Genetically engineer an ash tree that is resistant to the beetle for street tree plantings, although that would require the work of biotechnologists on a tree that doesn't yet exist.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, located on eight campuses, is committed to teaching, research and service in areas such as public and nonprofit management, public policy, environmental science, criminal justice, arts administration and health administration. The school maintains continuing relationships with a large number of public agencies at all levels of government; public and private hospitals and health organizations; and nonprofit organizations and corporations in the private sector. SPEA has earned national distinction for innovative educational programs that combine administrative, social, economic, financial and environmental disciplines.