Today’s headline in the Lincoln Journal Star should not have been shocking. But it was. “Emerald Ash Borer has been found in Omaha.” And there it was; in living color in a large, full color picture above the fold. It seems that my entire career as an arborist has consisted of moving from one tree crisis to the next. Coming from California, we had our share of issues. Polyphagus Shot Hole Borer, Pine Bark Beetle, Sudden Oak Death, drought; they are all horrific in their own way. Trees in danger of death are nothing new. But what is it about this little green insect that gets under our skin? I believe it is because it attacks the trees that are ours. They are urban trees, trees in our yards, parks, golf courses and schools. They are trees that provide shade, capture stormwater, house wildlife, provide air quality benefits to our homes and to our cities. They were the tree that was planted because too many elm trees died from Dutch Elm disease. They were the answer to that plague. We have seen the tree-lined street pictures. Nothing is safe from this little monster.
At our office, we heard the news the day before it was in the paper. We all knew it was coming; Nebraska is surrounded by it. Texas was the 25th state to achieve the lofty host status, and it was only confirmed there last week. It’s been in Missouri for a number of years. In addition to Boulder, another city in Colorado was also a very recent victim. Because I am a Certified Arborist, my name is listed on the International Society of Arboriculture’s website. I have had homeowners reach out to me as a professional to ask when to begin treatments. I don’t have the heart to tell these people you can treat, but your ash tree will, most likely, eventually die. My hope is that researchers find the antidote to EAB before Lincoln’s 14,000 ash trees die. I tell them they do not need to treat until EAB is found within 15 miles of Lincoln. Only 50 miles to go, for that shiny green brute.
When I moved to Lincoln six months ago, my house hunt was somewhat difficult. It wasn’t that I am that picky. I wanted a smaller home, a quiet tree lined street, and most importantly, no ash trees. I knew what was coming. My real estate agent did not. I explained to her the situation and she understood. I wouldn’t even look at a house without knowing the species of trees that existed on the property. I am the proud owner of three giant Pin Oaks because of this. But there are ash trees in my neighborhood. We all will have a tree story to tell in Lincoln.
Is EAB all doom and gloom? Yes and no. It is almost certain our ash trees will die. It will take time. There are treatments that may prolong the life of our lovely ash forest. What I believe is this: communities that have dealt with EAB better understand the value of trees. Not the shade value alone, but the environmental benefits that trees provide. They are more than sentinels that mark the passage of time in our urban forest. The benefits of a well canopied community are scientifically proven. As we lose canopy to EAB, or the myriad of other diseases and insects that are here or yet to come, we have learned that those environmental benefits go away. Lincoln briefly considered a stormwater bond that included money to address the EAB problem that is coming. For a city to even consider this is forward thinking. It shows that municipalities are truly beginning to understand that an urban canopy provides much more than shade; that among their numerous benefits, trees are nature’s stormwater capture devices and that they are already here, standing and ready to work. We should take the lessons of EAB, and other insects and diseases from the past, together with the emerging science of urban forestry, and apply our knowledge to better manage our urban forests across the country. That is the only benefit of Emerald Ash Borer.
Visit arborday.org to learn more about the Emerald Ash Borer and how to identify signs of its presence.