Good news for tree huggers in Indiana—experts say while tree deaths caused by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer are at their peak, it’s likely the number of infestations will decline in the next few years.
For the past decade, the little beetle has been a big problem for the country’s trees. The ash borer burrows into a tree’s trunk, destroying the tissues and pathways that carry nutrients.
However, there’s now a light at the end of the tunnel. West Lafayette Greenspace Administrator Beverly Shaw says there soon the beetle will ironically bring about its own destruction—there simply won’t be any ash trees left for it to live in:
"The Emerald Ash Borer basically arrives and leaves in a bell-shaped curve," she explains. "You start losing some trees, and then you lose more and more trees, and it reaches a peak...and then it does decline because there's not as much of the food source."
Lafayette city forester Leanne Wells also anticipates impending relief:
"We're at Peak Ash Borer," she says. "We're at about the 75 percent [mark]. Let's say that cycle would last ten years. We're at year eight."
But first, the pests will destroy most of the ash trees in Tippecanoe County. West Lafayette once had more that 900 ash trees in its public spaces. The city has lost more than a third of those, and more trees keep coming down every month. Wells say she's seen similar devastation in West Lafayette.
While the city can remove smaller trees itself, for larger ones the city needs to hire a professional. Depending on size, that can cost anywhere from 300 to one-thousand dollars per tree. On top of that, the city has to pay for new, replacement trees to be planted, too, at the cost of about $250 a tree.
Shaw says unfortunately, the city can only remove trees on public property, and diseased plants in people’s yards are their owner’s responsibility.
"I'm concerned there are going to be people who can't afford to take them down," says Shaw. "Grantors always want to give money for tree planting and never tree removal. This has happened in many cities before us and I haven't seen anybody getting tree removal money."
Shaw says it would be both illogical and irresponsible to buy or plant an ash tree today, but she and Wells both expressed hope that in the future scientists can formulate a borer-resistant ash similar to the hybrids cultivated after the Dutch Elm Disease epidemic in the mid-1900s.
"Things just have a way of coming around," says Wells. "Maybe with enough time, trees will be propigated that will be resistant."