Buttons going up across the city on treated ash trees

Published 8:56 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2023

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Buttons have been going up all over the city, from Canary Drive and Plainview Lane to Newton Avenue and even the splash pad. But no one is wearing them.

That’s because the buttons are being placed on treated ash trees.

“We contracted with Rainbow Treecare originally when emerald ash borer was discovered in our area for them to devise a emerald ash borer plan,” said Ryan Hajek, assistant director of public works for the city of Albert Lea.

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The city and the company will determine what to do moving forward and how bad the bug was infesting ash trees in the county. If the bug makes its way to Albert Lea, and if trees are left untreated, every ash in Albert Lea will be dead within five years.

The bug was first discovered in 2021 within northwestern Freeborn County, and according to a Minnesota Department of Agriculture map, the bug has been discovered north and west of Albert Lea, though to be clear there have been no confirmed cases of emerald ash borer in Albert Lea.

“[Doing this] is a preventative if they come,” he said. “They are going to be here cause it’s been found. It’s in Austin really bad.”

Only high-quality trees are being treated, meaning they’re in a good location and don’t show signs of other diseases. They’ve also removed roughly 270 trees that were either too big or too near the end of their lifespan.

“It’s kind of like taking a vaccine,” he said. “If you take a vaccine you’re preventing something from happening even though it’s not necessarily there.”

Because of the treatment, any beetles that arrive from outside the area will not affect the ash trees.

Ash cambium miner is a fly present under the bark of ash as larva. Larva that started in branches will then tunnel to the roots and soil.

“All this feeding on the tree, eventually that’s where all the nutrients travel up into the tree,” he said, adding that if left untreated the bugs will kill the tree.

The treatment was applied over two days earlier this year, with one-third treated this year, another one-third scheduled next year and the final third planned for two years from now. And after that, they’ll start re-treating them.

Hajek said the easiest way to differentiate a healthy ash from an infected one is to look for pieces of missing bark toward the top of the tree. Woodpecker holes at the top of an ash are also a potential sign, as he said they were looking to get the larvae.

“People make a mistake because they look for emerald ash borer at the trunk,” he said. “When you’ve got emerald ash borer at the trunk and there are woodpecker holes in the trunk, that tree’s so far along that it’s going to die so it’s already not worth saving.”

Regardless of the status, Hajek encourages everyone with an ash tree to treat it by contacting a licensed arborist such as Albert Lea Tree Service.

“It’s not if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen,” he said.

Because the bug was discovered in the county, ash wood is no longer permitted to travel across county lines.

More information on emerald ash borer can be found at cityofalbertlea.org/emerald-ash-borer/.