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Pondering the impact of emerald ash borer on farmstead treesPondering the impact of emerald ash borer on farmstead trees

Nebraska Forest Service health program leader talks about how EAB will affect Nebraska farms and ranches.

Curt Arens

October 7, 2016

3 Min Read

Now that emerald ash borer was confirmed in Omaha's Pulaski Park and two other nearby locations in June, it is only a matter of time for this pest to spread across the state, potentially killing millions of ash trees.

That's what Nebraska Forest Service health program leader Mark Harrell told producers and agency staff at the Nebraska Natural Resources Districts state convention in Kearney recently. Nebraska became the 27th state to confirm the presence of EAB, joining neighboring Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado.


Nebraska Department of Agriculture issued a quarantine prohibiting ash nursery stock from leaving the area. This issuance also regulates the movement of hardwood firewood and mulch, ash timber products, and green waste materials out of Douglas, Sarpy, Cass, Washington and Dodge counties to prevent the spread of EAB outside the infested area.

"Across the state, about 9% of the trees are ash," Harrell said. "That means that almost 1 in 10 trees could be impacted by EAB." If you are talking about large cities and small rural communities, the numbers are even more devastating. "About 27% of the trees in municipalities are ash," he explained.

That means that when EAB strikes a community, the cost of cleanup and replanting new trees in the wake of lost ash trees will be substantial. Harrell estimated the cost of cleaning up dead ash trees and replanting trees could be $961 million. "That's almost $1 billion as the cost of EAB," he added.

EAB is an invasive metallic green beetle that measures about a half-inch long. The larva is flattened with bell-shaped segments, resembling a small tapeworm. The tell-tale exit holes of EAB are small, D-shaped holes about an eighth-inch in diameter. Beneath the bark surface, heavily infested trees will have meandering S-shaped tunnels in the inner bark and on the surface of the wood.

This is how the pest kills the trees. It attacks by boring into the cambium, disrupting the flow of nutrients and water up the trunk and to the limbs. There are professional treatments of pesticide injections that can kill EAB. While treatments may extend the life of the tree, they can only delay the inevitable, Harrell said.

The impact of EAB will not be immediate on farms and ranches outside the already affected area, Harrell said. EAB is a hitchhiker, spreading mostly with firewood and even by riding on vehicles. "We expect it to spread first along major travel corridors like Interstate 80 and other major highways," he said. Even small communities will be at risk from this kind of method of distribution.

"It may take 10 to 20 years or more for EAB to reach more isolated places like farms and ranches," Harrell explains. "But once it is present, ash trees will be at risk."

He suggested planting a wide diversity of tree species on farms and in rural communities as a way to combat pests and diseases that can strike one variety or another. For more information on EAB in Nebraska, visit eabne.info.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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