Fort Pierre made plans to start the ash tree removal process as the Emerald Ash Borer begins to spread itself throughout the state of South Dakota. The Emerald Ash Borer is a metallic green beetle insect that nests and eats itself out of ash trees. While there are some ash trees that can remain unharmed from the bug, North American Ash trees are not one of them.
The Fort Pierre Arbor Board, Public Works and a South Dakota State University tree specialist are working together to minimize the problem before it begins.
Lori Jacobson, assistant director of public works and member of the Arbor Board in Fort Pierre, said that they have a number of ash trees in the area that are susceptible to the insect.
“We have about 300 trees that are specifically ash that we’ve tried to identify through the Department of Ag tree planter program,” Jacobson said. “We now have put that proposal out by working through four remotes, calls for removal out on just this week. Hopefully, you know, we will get a good response for the removal process.”
Fort Pierre Arbor Board President Ron Schreiner said that this isn’t the first time he’s heard about the Emerald Ash Borer and the problems they cause.
“I was aware of the tree issues. And I was fascinated with this emerald ash borer thing that was happening in the East Coast and moving this way, but it wasn’t in South Dakota yet,” Schreiner said.
Schreiner said that Fort Pierre won’t have time to react if they don’t start dealing with the ash trees now.
“We’ve got five years to do something ahead of the infestation. So what we can do, all we can do is deal with the trees on city property and parks,” Schreiner said.
When these ash trees become infested they become a danger to their communities and end up causing further problems. Schreiner said that once the ash borer inhabits the tree, it can cause the tree to start breaking down.
“It causes wood to deteriorate, and it gets tight. The whole tree is like styrofoam. It has no structural integrity. It could land on your house, your kid, your car, your bicycle, whatever. So that’s why we want to get these out,” Schreiner said.
SDSU professor and forestry specialist, John Ball said once these trees start showing signs of breakage they become likely to fall and that even though there are clear problems the tree can remain upright.
“That’s why it’s so important to be proactive because once the tree dies, it’s going to remain standing there for years. They can fall very quickly, but some do stand for several years, but some others, even just the slightest move, become pretty much a safety hazard,” Ball said.
Ball also said that another problem with these insects is that they can spread relatively fast.
“With emerald ash borer. They go through a community much faster, it can infest the trees within a decade or less and once the trees have been infested by the insect it usually takes maybe three years of continual infestations to kill a tree,” he said.
Ball also said that it’s not a matter of if, but when.
“It’s inevitable, it’s not that it might happen. It’s just that it will happen. The insect has moved through 33 states and has never stopped anywhere else. It won’t stop here,” he said.
Jacobson said if Fort Pierre can prepare they can also use the wood for other projects or purposes within the community.
“If we get ahead of the curve we can start taking down trees and we can use the chips right now we can reuse the wood right now. Whereas if the ash borer were here, we would be limited on what we can do with those,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson added the wood from the trees can be used for a variety of things.
“The wood chips we’re going to use at the county fairgrounds, so they’ll be used with a lot of 4H projects and some of the county projects that we have going on,” she said. “If people want to use those and cut them up into firewood, they’re more than welcome to use them. We haven’t quite gotten it figured out, you know, where exactly we’re going to stack all that stuff, but we will have some of that available for citizens.”
The board also plans to replant trees in the ash trees’ place, but one of the problem has been figuring out which trees to use.
Schreiner said that they are trying their best to find trees that will be able to grow effectively.
“The soil east of the Missouri has been laid down by the glaciers and we didn’t have that here. So we have a lot of poor soil and we look for trees that can handle poor soil,” Schreiner said.
Some of the trees that the Arbor Board has looked at are the Common Hackberry, Autumn Splendor Buckeye, Northern Catalpa, Honeylocust, Burr Oak and Linden trees.
Ball said it’s important that communities start looking at a variety of trees because tree attacking insects like the ash borer will continue to exist.
“What we’re telling all communities to do is diversify. Don’t just say well, we’re gonna remove ash because they are infested or they’re going to become infested one day and plant maple. Let’s get out there and say let’s plant oaks and lindens, so we’ll have plenty of trees that are adapted to the community, rather than us saying, let’s just go plant one thing,” he said.
The board emphasizes that it’s not an option to wait.
“I mean, you can’t just lay back and let this borer come in and eliminate 40 percent of the trees in town because that’s what we have is 40 percent,” Schreiner said.
Jacobson said that they want to remain proactive and deal with the borer before it’s too late.
“The point is, you don’t want to work in crisis mode. You know, we don’t want to be one of those cities or states that waited until the emerald ash borer was here,” she said.