Meet the emerald ash borer, an insect state officials believe could devastate ash trees comprising many of Montana’s urban forests. To combat the potential threat, the Montana Department of Agriculture started an awareness campaign using green fliers tied to ash trees, though the city of Helena has chosen not to allow the state to post fliers on city-owned trees.
Ash trees on the Capitol lawn and around several state buildings don the green informational fliers provided by the state. The awareness campaign coincides with Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week, which runs May 19-25.The fliers will also appear on ash trees in Bozeman, Billings and Townsend.
The emerald ash borer has never been documented in Montana, but officials want to raise awareness so they can quickly respond if an outbreak occurs.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Ian Foley, pest management program manager for the Montana Department of Agriculture. “Tens of millions of ash trees are dying across the country from the emerald ash borer.”
Foley likened the effect of the emerald ash borer in ash trees in the urban forest to that of the mountain pine beetle in the national forests. An infestation could quickly devastate a city’s ash population in a short time, he said.
The emerald ash borer was detected in 2013 in Boulder, Colorado, which is the closest place to Montana where they have been found. Officials believe the insects were in Colorado for several years prior, Foley said.
The state uses traps to detect the presence of the insect and has not detected any in Montana, he said.
Officials tagged dozens of trees at the Capitol Monday morning with fliers that state, “This ash tree is at risk of being killed by the emerald ash borer.”
The fliers also direct people to www.emeraldashborer.info and www.dontmovefire
wood.org for information.
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Ash trees have gained popularity with urban forest programs for their inexpensive price and relative ease of care. The trees make up around 30 percent of publicly owned trees in Montana’s urban forests. Helena has almost 7,000 ash trees, according to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.
The Department of Agriculture is encouraging municipalities to develop an action plan to prepare for an infestation, Foley said.
“Ultimately, cities are responsible for damage because they own the trees,” Foley said.
The city of Helena had concerns about the wording of the fliers, and those concerns led to a decision against allowing the state to place fliers on city-owned trees.
“We felt that the content of the flier would raise alarm,” Amy Teegarden, director of Parks and Recreation for the city, said. “The way it was written, it gave the impression that those are privately owned trees.”
City officials were concerned that the fliers could cause private citizens to cut tree limbs or take other actions on trees maintained by the city. The city was not asked to participate in the creation of the fliers, Teegarden said.
The city has taken the threat of the emerald ash borer seriously, however, and is working with the Montana Urban and Community Forestry Association to develop an action plan, she said.
City officials plan to go before the city commission with the first passage of a tree ordinance. Officials are currently inventorying and assessing the condition of ash trees in the city. The city also does not plan to plant more ash trees in an effort to diversify Helena’s tree species, Teegarden said.
The emerald ash borer most commonly spreads through the transport of firewood, and the state, the Nature Conservancy and other partners want visitors to know about the danger of bringing in firewood from other states.
“It is not worth risking millions of dollars in damage to save a few bucks on your bundle of firewood,” said Leigh Greenwood of the Nature Conservancy. “Montana has plenty of locally harvested firewood for sale, or visitors are welcome to gather firewood near their campsites whenever it is allowed.”