Kent braces for effects of emerald ash borer as quarantine expands

Tom Gallick

The city of Kent may not have experienced the destruction associated with the emerald ash borer, which has not been sighted on or off campus in Kent yet, but according to city and Kent State employees, it’s just a matter of time.

“We could still be years away from an infestation so large that we’re not able to handle it, but it’s coming,” said Kent city arborist Gerald Shanley. “It’s just a matter of time.”

The emerald ash borer is a species of beetle originating in Asia that feeds on ash trees and kills them within three to five years, according to the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Web site. It was first reported Ohio in 2003.

This summer, the list of Ohio counties where the insect has been spotted grew to 52, including Mahoning and Summit, which neighbor already quarantined Portage County. When the emerald ash borer is first reported in a county, the state quarantines the area, enforcing fines up to $4,000 for anyone moving ash trees or hardwood firewood out of the county, while the federal government enforces fines of up to $250,000 for moving the material out of state.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has estimated property owners in Ohio could pay up to $1 billion during the next ten years to remove dead or dying trees affected by the emerald ash borer.

Heather White, grounds manager at Kent State, said she thinks the quarantine rules have failed to significantly stop the spread of the insect.

“In my opinion, I don’t think the quarantine is working,” White said. “We keep adding additional counties to the list. We’ve slowed it and increased awareness, but we’re not stopping it.”

White, who said Kent State stopped buying ash trees about five years ago, said the expansion of the beetle to east coast states such as Maryland supports her claim the quarantines have been ineffective. The emerald ash borer was first reported in the United States in Michigan in 2002, and it has spread to 11 states and Canada since its arrival.

She said the university and city may have benefited so far because of their distance from major highways and the “vigilant” observation efforts of city and campus employees.

The insect was found in Portage County in November 2007 off the Ohio Turnpike in Freedom Township.

Kaleigh Frazier, public information officer for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the department was pleased that, until recently, the quarantine had expanded only into neighboring counties in the state. Pike and Scioto counties, two counties in southern Ohio that border no areas where the beetle has been previously discovered, were added to the quarantine list in late August.

Frazier said the state is focusing on educating Ohioans in the hope that they can help monitor the emerald ash borer.

“We certainly want people to become educated about what it is and the damage it can do, as well as following the quarantine,” Frazier said.

Ohio originally received money from the federal government to destroy emerald ash borer-infested trees, but because of budget cuts, now only receives enough money to track the beetles by setting traps. Ohio received $1 million for its tracking program this year.

Proponents on increased federal spending to deal with the emerald ash borer include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who noted in an August press release the insect had already destroyed 50 million trees in the United States.

She cited a Michigan State study that estimated the cost of removing one tree at up to $400 dollars, and stressed that the cost of removing trees for homeowners and city governments would be tremendous if preventative measures are cut back at the federal level.

Ohio has more than 3.8 billion ash trees, representing about one in every 10 trees in the state, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Web site. Both White and Shanley said ash trees compose 3 to 5 percent of the campus and city’s tree populations.

Shanley, who said the city does have a management plan to remove infested ash trees when they are found, said Kent residents could prevent infestations on their properties by chemically treating their ash trees.

“If you have ash trees on your property that you’re not going to treat, we would recommend taking them down,” Shanley said.

Contact public affairs reporter Tom Gallick at [email protected].