It's a new beetle invasion, and they're not from England

2012-05-20T00:00:00Z 2012-05-20T18:29:05Z It's a new beetle invasion, and they're not from EnglandBy Phil Wieland, (219) 548-4352

Beetlemania is sweeping the region, but the sound of thousands of screaming teenage girls that accompanied the original Beatlemania is being replaced by the sound of chain saws.

The emerald ash borer invasion has begun and area communities are mustering forces and funds to combat it. According to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the EAB, as it is referred to, was first detected in Indiana in 2004, and has now been spotted in more than 50 of Indiana's 92 counties, including Porter and Lake counties.

While more than capable of transporting itself to new areas, the EAB's primary mode of transportation is on campground firewood. Infested trees have several symptoms of the beetles' presence, including D-shaped holes in the bark, usually starting at the top of the tree.

Other signs are branches showing thin foliage at the tops of the trees, woodpecker holes resulting from the birds seeking out the larva under the bark and splits in the bark that reveal curvy trails left by the insects.

According to a recent release from the Purdue University News Service, the number of trees with EAB symptoms usually doubles each year. From the time enough trees are damaged to draw attention to the problem, it takes three or four years for all the remaining ash trees to be killed. More than 80 percent die in the last three years of the local invasion.

For communities, the problem is a massive one because it is estimated one in every five trees in the public right of way is an ash tree. Valparaiso got a grant of up to $20,000 from the DNR to combat the EAB, with $15,000 of that going to match the cost of the labor for removing the trees.

Valparaiso has done an inventory of all the trees in the city's right of way, and Public Works Director Matt Evans said about 600 are ash trees, which is about 7 percent of the total. The city has started removing them, but Evans said he is awaiting word to proceed using the grant money before attacking more of them this spring.

Munster Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said, "We're going through and doing an inventory to start tearing them down. It's going to be costly. I suspect that over the next few years we will spend a couple hundred thousand dollars."

It could have been worse. DeGiulio said the town lost a lot of trees following the flooding in 2008, and he figures a lot of them were ash trees, which are pretty common. He said most of the town's trees are north of 45th Avenue. The town has taken down a few already, but it will have to contract out removing most of them.

Hobart Public Works Director John Dubach said the city is working with a tree consultant and so far has found only one reported case of infestation.

"When we get it identified, we remove it as soon as possible," Dubach said. "Treatment (with insecticide) is financially tough for cities to undertake, and it's only good for one season. We have over 700 ash trees. They are older, nice trees, but you just know it's going to happen."

Dubach compared it to the Dutch elm disease that killed almost all the elm trees 30 years ago. He said those trees are just now recovering, so he hopes a method for treating the ash trees can be found.

"Some cities go in and cut the trees ahead of its arrival," he said. "I'd hate to do that."

After the cost of removing them comes the cost of replacing them with other species. Valparaiso plans to offer residents a choice of about four species to replace the lost ash trees in front of their homes. The warm weather in March jump-started the plants and is expected to do the same for the beetles.

The Purdue News Service said the adult EAB usually emerges and begins migrating when the black locusts bloom, and the trees are blooming in some areas. Anyone seeking advice on identifying ash trees, determining whether they are infested and how to treat them can go to the Purdue website

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