On the Offensive

Faced with a potential loss of 18,000 trees to the emerald ash borer (EAB), Green Bay, Wis., has armed against the invasion of this destructive insect by developing a response plan. Since first appearing in North America in 2002, EAB infestations have killed more than 20 million ash trees at a cost of tens of millions of dollars. The beetle larvae feed on the inner bark, disrupting the tree's ability to transport water and nutrients. With EAB infiltrations less than 40 miles away in northern Illinois, the Wisconsin Department f Natural Resources (WDNR) prepared an EAB Toolkit to help municipalities develop response plans.

Implementing an EAB response plan before EAB arrives is a proactive alternative to expensive crisis management. The purpose of the plan is not only to direct EAB management activities, but also to limit the reduction in other forestry services. A well-planned response stretches tax dollars, justifies expenditures, reduces liability, and shows leadership in the face of a well-defined threat.

As in many communities, budget cuts and staff reductions have taken their toll on the Green Bay Forestry Division. Because EAB kills large areas of ash trees very quickly, its arrival will present an enormous budget and workload challenge. Forestry services will be limited to tree and stump removals associated with dead and dying ash trees. The demand for tree planting and pruning will skyrocket. The aesthetic qualities of parks and neighborhoods will quickly decline. Property values will decrease and utility bills will increase.

The Green Bay plan addresses the current staff and workload along with future demands on the division. The Forestry Division has used the EAB Toolkit to complete the following steps:

  • Train field staff to identify signs of EAB and to differentiate those of native ash pests.
  • Assign responsibility for local EAB programs to the Forestry Division.
  • Communicate the threat of EAB and the importance of preparation to department directors, elected officials, and the community.
  • Update municipal ordinances to address EAB.
  • Work with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to select, girdle, monitor, remove, and evaluate detection trees.

Over the next two years, the Forestry Division will use a WDNR Urban and Community Forestry Grant to complete a street tree inventory. This will provide data on the street tree ash population, including size and condition ratings, and will enable forestry administration to estimate costs associated with tree and stump removal and replacement.

As they inventory street trees, forestry staff will survey public and private ash trees for signs of EAB. The Forestry Division will designate waste wood processing and staging sites with emphasis on using the wood for the benefit of the city and on reducing disposal costs.

More than any other element in a municipality, the urban forest provides a vast environmental benefit, increases the quality of life and defines the character of the community. Preparing an EAB response plan is a responsible action to protect this asset.

Eric Muecke is assistant city forester,city of Green Bay, Wis.