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Published June 16, 2009, 08:29 PM

Spread the word about invasive beetle

As the school year drew to a close, fourth-grade students from Northern Lights Elementary School hit the sidewalks around Superior to spread the word about the emerald ash borer.

By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram

As the school year drew to a close, fourth-grade students from Northern Lights Elementary School hit the sidewalks around Superior to spread the word about the emerald ash borer.

The children distributed informational pamphlets shaped like ash trees in the section of the city nearest to the school, which has one of the most significant ash plantings. Through their work, the students learn the value of community service, but they also learned important facts about the metallic green beetle that could destroy 18 percent of Superior’s trees if it reaches the Northland.

Annie Gronski, who teaches fourth grade at Northern Lights, headed the effort to get the students outside to educate others about the invasive species.

“We were on a mission,” Gronski said.

About 100 students, accompanied by 35 chaperones, covered the area from Belknap and Tower to the middle school and Catlin Avenue. The literature drop June 3 took a little more than an hour. Gronski estimates the students reached about 2,500 homes.

Prior to the literature drop, students had been learning about the growing mechanisms of trees and how they function in an ecosystem. They also studied emerald ash borer and other invasive species threatening the Northland. A number of speakers came to give presentations, including one about zebra mussels to the students.

“So it’s a perfect example of what we’re learning in school,” Gronski said of the literature distribution.

The effort to inform Superior residents about the emerald ash borer began in 2008 when the city received an Urban Forestry Grant. The documents distributed June 3 were partially funded by the grant.

More than 2,000 trees along city boulevards are ash — about 18 percent of Superior’ managed trees.

Mary Morgan, parks and recreation administrator for Superior, wants to get as much information to the public as possible so citizens aren’t shocked as they were during the Dutch elm crisis. Morgan said the city hasn’t planted ash trees in years, but city workers originally planted ash in place of the elms that died from Dutch elm disease.

If emerald ash borers reach Superior, Morgan wants the city to be better prepared than it was when it lost its elm trees.

“It’s all around us,” Morgan said of the invasive ash borer. “It’s in Michigan, it’s in Illinois ... it’s also been noted in St. Paul, Minn. It’s just been a matter of time before it arrives.”

The insect was first discovered in North America in summer of 2002, and has now spread to 12 states and parts of Canada. The highest concentrations of emerald ash borer remain in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, where the insect was first detected.

For Superior, the next step is to create an readiness plan. Beginning today, the city is conducting a new survey of its urban forests. The data the city now uses comes from a tree survey performed in 1998.

By summer’s end, Morgan hopes the process will be complete, and Superior will have the current tree data it needs to plan for the worst.

“Ideally we would make a plan that would involve removal and replacement (of ash) with other types or species of tree,” Morgan said. “For us the dilemma is (we have) heavy clay soil, zone three climate; we have a relatively limited choice of trees to choose from.”

In the meantime, residents are encouraged to watch for signs of infestation.

“The point of getting this (document) out was so people could see a picture of the emerald ash borer plus signs of distress,” Gronski said. “I hope it helps to have it on hand.”

The children in Gronski’s class are ready to do their part by watching for the beetle. One student, Keith Montgomery, found a stick with signs of what he thought could be evidence of EAB. He gave the stick to Gronski, who turned it over to Morgan for testing. Though the sample showed signs consistent with the pest, it turned out to be aspen, not ash.

The symptoms of EAB are very similar to those of less harmful pests, but Morgan said it doesn’t hurt to check something that looks suspicious.

To report possible signs, call the Emerald Ash Borer Hotline at (800) 462-2803.