Fighting the emerald ash borer

By Heather Carlile

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

The buds haven’t even emerged on trees, but an army of volunteers is already training to be the first line of defense against an invasive pest that has many in the forestry industry concerned: emerald ash borer.

The ash borer is an insect that attacks and kills ash trees. The adults are small green beetles that lay eggs in bark. Once they hatch, the larvae bore into the bark and tunnel for food, robbing the tree of its nutrients until it dies.

One of the nerve-wracking aspects of the ash borer threat to Minnesota is the state’s high number of ash trees — the second-highest ash population in the nation after Maine — and it takes three years to see outward signs of the pest.


"For all we know, it could be here," said Val Cervenka, one of the first detector trainers and a forest health program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Cervenka said any state is susceptible, but Minnesota is particularly at risk. This is due to the estimated 867 million forestland ash trees in the state. Ash is also prominent in urban forests.

Minnesota’s tourism industry is adding to the concern because people could be moving firewood for camping that contains emerald ash borer. In response, legislation has been passed that bans bringing firewood into state parks that isn’t from a DNR-approved vendor.

Beginning May 1, penalties will go into effect for people who don’t follow the firewood rule. The wood will be confiscated and the purchaser fined $100. The penalty for a non-approved vendor will be $100 for each sale.

Cervenka said emerald ash borer in Minnesota could have an economic impact that would climb to billions of dollars for disposal costs and losses in the marketplace. There would also be environmental and cultural ramifications. Ash trees soak up water, so a mass removal of them would change ecosystems; Native Americans use ash wood in ceremonies and basket-weaving.

The Rochester emerald ash borer first detector training was the first of six others scheduled around the state. The program is part of the National Pest Diagnostic Network and has attracted more-than-expected interest. When completed, 185 Minnesotans will be trained as emerald ash borer first detectors.

Their job will be to help the public who suspect they’ve spotted emerald ash borer by answering questions over the phone. Although they are not required to, the volunteers might drive out to the home to further investigate the case, submit samples and contact the Minnesota Department of Agriculture if they feel the threat is real. They will also voluntarily collect ash seeds for research that will eventually try to develop trees with emerald ash borer-resistance and share information with the public.

Bruce Nelson was one of the volunteers at the Rochester training. He’s a horticulturist at Bachman’s, a Minneapolis nursery and garden center.


"Just trying to do my part," he said.

Carlile is a staff writer for Agri News. Agri News is a weekly agricultural newspaper published by the Post-Bulletin Company, LLC.

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