Being proactive best bet to combat beetle, agriculture expert says

Posted: Dec. 11, 2012 10:16 pm Updated: Jan. 1, 2013 11:15 pm

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A representative from the Illinois Department of Agriculture suggests the best way to combat the growing presence of the emerald ash borer is an aggressive, proactive stance toward the beetle that is a native of Asia.

The insect is a rapidly growing threat to all species of ash trees and its presence has now been confirmed in 41 of 102 Illinois counties. The emerald ash borer first was discovered in Illinois in 2006 and is a major problem in the Chicago, Bloomington and Normal areas.

Scott Schirmer, the department's program manager for the emerald ash borer, said the closest detection of the beetle near Quincy has been found in the Galesburg area. Schirmer is headquartered in DeKalb.

"We're talking about this proactively (in Quincy), because the closest infestation is still 100 miles away," Schirmer said.

Schirmer addressed a group of about 20 concerned citizens at City Hall on Tuesday night.

Schirmer said the biggest concerns connected to the emerald ash borer -- along with its ability to wipe out an entire species of tree -- are the problems it will ultimately bring involving erosion control as trees die, liability (for injuries tied to dying trees), loss of landscape and a decrease in property value.

The beetle first was uncovered in the United States in the Detroit area in 2002 and is responsible for killing millions of trees in the Midwest and Canada. The Great Lakes area was the first to feel the bug's effect, but in the past decade, it has continued to spread blight in all directions.

"We're going to be proactive in this," said Mayor John Spring. "We're trying to get a good game plan together."

Spring was one of those in attendance at City Hall.

"The emerald ash borer is very hard to detect," Schirmer said. "It's a green bug about the size of a grain of rice flying around green leaves."

The beetle does its initial damage to trees from the inside, where its larvae deprive the tree of water and nutrients. The presence of the borer is often found thanks to woodpecker markings. The woodpeckers drill through bark to get at the larvae.

Many times, Schirmer said, damage in the trees will not be detectable for up to three years.

Exterior damage is eventually seen in the trees' bark, which begins peeling away. Foliage also decreases.

Chemical treatment of ash trees before the beetles arrive is the best bet to turn the bugs away. There have been a number of studies on which preventive measures are best. Much of the information is available on the Department of Agriculture's website at

The most recent figures available indicate that 1,042 of the 11,592 trees on city property are ash. Early estimates for treating trees indicate a price of tag of about $60 per tree -- as opposed to a removal bill of between $750 to $1,000 per tree.

In addition, there are many more ash trees on private property.

There is an ongoing debate on how the beetles continue to reach so far inland. Most theories involve via trucks hauling goods from one region to another or by the beetles attaching themselves to other vehicles. Schirmer said human clothing is also a distinct possibility, considering the bugs are so small.