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N.D. on the lookout for emerald ash borer

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota has an estimated 78 million green ash trees, including at least 60 percent of the state's shelterbelts and about 50 percent of the trees along the state's rivers.

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Emerald ash borer larvae feed under the bark of ash trees, damaging and ultimately killing the trees. (Photo courtesy of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.)

BISMARCK, N.D. - North Dakota has an estimated 78 million green ash trees, including at least 60 percent of the state's shelterbelts and about 50 percent of the trees along the state's rivers.

"It's the hardy tree, and we don't have a lot of those," says Charles Elhard, a plant protection specialist with the state Department of Agriculture. "So it's one we want to keep around."

Officials worry a recent influx of firewood into North Dakota could speed the introduction of emerald ash borer, an invasive species often transported in firewood. Elhard says emerald ash borer has moved slowly in northern areas, but if it arrives, tree loss is expected.

"It could be devastating," he says. "In other states the emerald ash borer is estimated to have killed tens of millions of ash trees."

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture has learned of firewood coming into the state from quarantined areas, including to the camps protesting construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline in Morton and Sioux counties and from hunters and others coming from Minnesota, says Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

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"The protest camps have been our biggest concern," he says. While much of the firewood has been certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or by tribal governments, some has come from quarantined areas, Goehring says.

He says people do not transport wood from quarantined areas on purpose; rather, many people are unaware of the dangers.

What is emerald ash borer?

The emerald ash borer is a wood-boring insect native to Asia. The metallic green bug is slightly smaller than a ladybug but can cause big problems. Emerald ash borer larvae feed under the bark of ash trees, which damages and eventually kills the trees.

Emerald ash borers were found in southeast Michigan in 2002 and has since spread across the eastern U.S. and the Midwest.

North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana are among a shrinking number of states where emerald ash borer has not been found, but officials in North Dakota have predicted it could make its way to the state in the coming years.

While other pests, including gypsy moth, Asian longhorned beetle, mountain pine beetle, balsam woolly adelgid and walnut twig beetle, could come from quarantined areas, the emerald ash borer is of particular concern in North Dakota due to the abundance of ash trees.

Goehring fears emerald ash borer could move along the Missouri River, then travel through the state's watershed and across the state. That would create "one big environmental nightmare," he says.

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How to combat emerald ash borer

Communicating the dangers of transporting firewood from quarantined areas is the best tool in combatting the spread of invasive pests, Elhard says. Winter conditions also help, since the insects are not active this time of year. State and federal officials hope to go to the protest camps and make sure all firewood is burned before spring thaw, Goehring says.

The state already puts out more than 1,000 traps, mostly in eastern North Dakota, with an attractant to lure emerald ash borers. The state may expand the use of the traps, Goehring says.

Elhard suggests keeping an eye out for problems in ash trees, including increases in woodpecker activity, dieback from the top down and bark splits with s-shaped galleries underneath. Ash borers native to the area can cause similar damage, but native species only attack declining trees while emerald ash borers also attack healthy trees, he says.

If emerald ash borer arrives, treating all infected trees in a shelterbelt would not be practical or cost effective, though treating a solitary tree is possible, Elhard says. Instead, he recommends taking a preventative measure. For any new plantings, put in at least four different species of trees. That way, other trees would survive even if emerald ash borer makes its way to the state.

"Really, diversify is the message," he says. "We didn't learn our lesson with Dutch Elm Disease. We lost our elm trees and planted all ash trees."

Related Topics: NORTH DAKOTA
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