KSU to prepare grounds for beetle

Kevin Kolus

A lightning bug-sized beetle has the university grounds crew worried about the future of its ash trees.

The Emerald Ash Borer is on its way to Kent State.

Grounds Manager Heather White said she feels “trepidation” about the beetle that has infested 40,000 square miles in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and Ontario, Canada.

“We’re not stopping it or not even slowing it,” she said. “It’s really got our backs against the wall.”

According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Emerald Ash Borer is “a death sentence for ash trees.”

“The larvae feed on the cambium layer, the tree’s live tissue just beneath the bark. This cuts off the tree’s nutrients and water and essentially starves the tree to death,” according to a ODA fact sheet reported about the beetle.

The insect, native to China, was first reported in the United States in June 2002, according to www.emeraldashborer.info. It has been in Ohio since 2003.

White said it would be a “reasonable expectation” that the beetle enters Portage County within two to three years.

Ash trees account for less than 10 percent of the trees on developed campus grounds, she said. However, the number of ash trees on undeveloped property own by Kent State is in the thousands.

To deal with the expected arrival of these insects, Kent State will no longer plant ash trees, she said. Ash trees that are declining in health will be ground up, and those next to roads will be removed to protect motorists.

“I need to manage the ash trees as a safety issue,” White said. “It’s a horrible decision you have to make.”

Kent State will handle the ash tree removal over an extended period of time to keep maintenance costs to a minimum, she said. Not only do the trees need to be cut down, but wood waste also has to be dealt with.

“We’d break the university budget trying to deal with the beetle in one year,” White said.

According to the ODA, the sources of most of Ohio’s infestations come from the transportation of firewood, logs and nursery stock. It is illegal to move ash trees, parts of an ash tree and all hardwood firewood out of a county that is under quarantine. Some areas near Portage County that are currently under quarantine include Cuyahoga, Lorain and Medina Counties.

“All it takes is one batch of infected wood for our county to be under quarantine,” White said.

Violators of a county’s quarantine can receive fines of up to $4,000, according to the ODA.

About one in 10 trees in Ohio forests is an ash tree, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Some cities are preparing early to try and preserve these trees for the rest of Ohio.

Shaker Heights is taking a preemptive approach to stop the spread of the beetle before it even reaches the city, White said. Next year, the city will begin a plan to remove ash trees on public property and replace them with other species.

White said planting different species is an important issue in “urban forests” for tree protection. She said Kent State has an advantage in this area of landscaping.

Diverse planting is necessary because new species of insects infesting the state are a possibility, she said. Having a variety of trees keeps the campus from a significant loss.

Kent State will monitor its ash tree population, but White said not much can be done to prevent the beetle’s arrival.

Contact building and grounds reporter Kevin Kolus at [email protected].