HUNTINGTON, Ind. (AP) -- Trees infected with the emerald ash borer are creating difficult choices for small Indiana communities trying to stop the spread of the invasive pest with limited funds.
Unlike Fort Wayne, which is expected to spend $1.3 million on ash tree treatment, removal and replacement next year, cities like Huntington and Decatur say they're tapped out by just removing the dead trees.
"It's a tough thing to fight," Dave Spencer, commissioner of the Huntington Street Department, told The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/rBlgAr ). "Small communities just can't afford to."
The ash borer is an insect native to Asia that has killed tens of millions of trees in the Northeast and Upper Midwest since 2002. The beetle was first found in Indiana in 2004, and it's been reported in more than 40 of the state's counties.
Several states, including Indiana, have put some counties under quarantine, not allowing wood to travel across certain borders.
But the pest continues its spread, and a study last year estimated that treating, replacing and disposing of trees infected by the ash borer will cost taxpayers about $10.7 billion over the next 10 years.
That's a harsh reality for budget-strapped communities like Huntington.
In recent years, the Huntington County Parks Department tried to save about two dozen ash trees by having an expert treat the trees with chemicals, according to Denise Bard, superintendent of the parks department. All the trees died.
Ralph Asher, the street department's assistant superintendent, says dying ash trees found in the spring or summer are immediately cut down and burned at a landfill.
"One day, I found 10 dead trees in a four-block stretch," he said. "We'll take down 80 or so trees in the fall."
The situation is similar in Decatur, where city forester Dwight Pierce says about 1,000 trees in easements and city parks have been lost.
Pierce said pruning trees takes a back seat to taking care of and disposing of ash trees.
Phil Marshall, an entomologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said he's seen the damage the ash borer has done to communities like Huntington, where the trees have a high fatality rate that shows no signs of abating.
"The mortality is increasing southward," Marshall said.
He estimates it will take 50 to 60 years for the removed trees to grow back -- if they're replaced at all.
Bard said Huntington is pursuing grants to help replace the trees.
The state DNR recently gave out about $200,000 in grants to help replace ash trees. Pierce said Decatur received $30,000.
That money will be used to replace trees that helped control the amount of storm water running into the St. Marys River. But Pierce won't be looking for more ash trees. He plans to plant sugar maples, American elm and Cyprus trees.
Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net
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