HIGHLAND | In the 1997 film "Starship Troopers," humans in a militaristic future battle giant alien bugs.

The bugs have their way most of the flick.

Wicker Park superintendent Brett Bierman knows the feeling. He and co-workers are waging war with the Emerald ash borer as it destroys ash trees at an alarming rate on the 18-hole course.

Bierman estimates more than 550 trees must come down, and he is absolutely sick about it.

"We figured Munster had it over the past five years and we were eventually going to get it," Bierman said. "And when we noticed the ash trees dying from the top down and holes in the bark, we hired an arborist, Gina Darnell."

She confirmed their worst fear.

"Pretty much all our ash trees have it, which is approximately between 500 and 600 trees," Bierman said. "We took down all the trees on No. 4 (hole). That was 99.

"The ash trees are all over the place and what stinks is on a lot of those holes, it's nothing but ash trees."

Wicker Park has received a two-year grant from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to cut down the infected trees and Bierman said the planting of new trees, to save money, will be done in-house and not by a contractor.

"We're currently planting 70 trees and then 70 again next spring," he said, adding it'll probably take five years and $100,000 to fully restore the course. "I am disgusted because it is starting (to come back).

"We've gotten over that (2008) flooding that covered 80 percent of it. We're not flooding anymore. We got the levy to protect us and then we went through that (2008) tornado where we lost 150 trees.

"We finally get the course up and running and then this happens," Bierman said.

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Since its accidental introduction into the United States and Canada in the 1990s and its subsequent detection in 2002, the Emerald ash borer has spread to 14 states and adjacent parts of Canada – killing close to 100 million ash trees.

It has become one of the most destructive non-native insects in the United States, causing an estimated $3.5 billion in annual damages.

"It's a whole different type of golf course, especially on those (affected) holes," Bierman said. "It's more of a links style. We're going to plant the trees and years from now, it's going to be back to what it was – and then there'll be a new problem.

"It seems like since I've been there in '07, year after year, it's something new."

The golf course had actually turned a profit every year since 2010, according to Bierman.

Years ago, ash trees were the popular choice of courses because they fill in nicely and grow at a steady rate. This time around, Bierman is going for variety.

"We're doing a lot of different varieties of oak trees, tulip trees, cypress trees, service berry which is a type of bush-looking tree, a lot of river birch trees," he said.

Most are 6 to 8 feet high.

Trees affected by the emerald ash borer usually die within seven to 11 years of introduction of the insect.

Bierman believes all of Northwest Indiana is at risk.

"The town of Highland is next 'cause it's moving there," he said. "I live in Crown Point, by Youche Country Club, and I know Youche is getting affected with this problem, too, because they got a bunch of ash trees.

"It's going to eventually take over all of Northwest Indiana. They come, they hit, then they're gone. I hope Dutch Elm Disease doesn't come next for our elm trees."


Sports Copy Editor

Jim is a copy editor for The Times who works out of Valparaiso. A South Central High School (1984) and Ball State ('89) grad, he’s covered preps most of his career. He received the Indiana High School Wrestling Coaches Association’s Media Award in 1997.