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Emerald ash borer advances on trees here

Emerald ash borer advances on trees here

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ST. LOUIS • Tree trimmers found the little green beetle along Emerson Avenue.

Crews were pruning power lines in the Walnut Park East neighborhood north of Interstate 70 earlier this month, and came across a strand of sickly ash trees. One worker found the telltale D-shaped holes in the bark; another saw the S-shaped tunnels, or galleries, in the wood.

The trimmers, from Nelson Tree Service, called Ameren electric, who called the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Then the crew cut down the trees. And, sure enough, in the bark of one, they found the sparkling metallic beetle.

The state sent it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

And, earlier this week, the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed it:

It was an emerald ash borer, here in St. Louis.

“It’s pretty hard to find them critters,” Hank Stelzer, a University of Missouri agriculture professor and chairman of the forestry department, said of the beetle itself. Usually they just find dying trees, and beetle trails.

“Now it needs to get on homeowners’ radars,” he continued, “and really on community radars.”

Tree lovers have been dreading this day for years. The beetle has slowly marched south from Michigan and Canada, where it was discovered in 2002, likely imported from China or Russia via wooden shipping crates and packing supplies.

Its larvae burrow into bark, and have destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in 25 states.

Last year, the state identified the borer in trees at a St. Charles County industrial park.

“There was no preventing it. There was no way they weren’t coming,” said Susan Trautman, executive director of the regional Great Rivers Greenway trails district. “It was just a matter of time.”

In anticipation, some have taken drastic measures. The National Park Service, for instance, cut down all 800 ash trees on the Gateway Arch grounds this fall and winter, part of the $380 million park renovation.

“On one hand, we’re sort of vindicated that we did that,” said Tom Bradley, superintendent of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, home of the Arch.

But, he said, the park isn’t the issue now: There are thousands of ash trees along the streets and in the backyards of St. Louis.

Stelzer, the University of Missouri forester, said city planners and homeowners need to “seriously consider their options.”

Kansas City residents, he said, are “seeing an explosion of dead and dying ash trees.” The trees there make up about 10 percent of the forest canopy.

“It can be pretty dramatic in some places,” Stelzer said. “Communities that hadn’t prepared, it’s starting to pinch them.”

Stelzer said St. Louis is two years behind its western neighbor. Homeowners need to start identifying ash trees now; other species are not affected. Important trees — ones shading houses, or planted as memorials, for instance — can be treated with pesticides. But the treatment is expensive and laborious.

Other ashes should be chopped down.

If replanting, he advised, take a tip from investment brokers: Diversify your landscape.

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