An exotic beetle recognized for its metallic emerald color invaded North America around 2002 and it has been damaging ash trees across the country since.

“Without knowing exact numbers at this point in time, it’s probably safe to say tens of millions of ash trees have been killed, removed, treated or otherwise impacted by the Emerald Ash Borer, since 2002,” said Scott Schirmer with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and a state plant regulatory official.

Schirmer said in Illinois 65 to 70 of the 102 counties have confirmed cases of the EAB, which started in the north and progressed south. The leading edge seems to be in the southern one-third to one-fourth of the state as of today.

Some of the earliest cases were found in Effingham County about eight years ago, at a rest area along Interstate 57, north of Effingham, Schirmer said. Since then there have been many confirmations in surrounding counties including: Shelby, Jasper, Clay and Marion. He added that active monitoring ceased in 2016, due to the fact that the state deregulated the EAB in October 2015.

Treating trees not affected is possible – and it is also possible to save a tree with minor EAB damage, an arborist explained.

“There are do-it-yourself options, which are the most economical, but may not be the most effective,” said Schirmer. “Professional options are more expensive and are often better products and delivery systems.”

He said it could cost between $50 to $100 or more per year to treat an average tree. It may cost between $500 to $1000 to remove a tree, plus the fact that the tree is lost along with the benefits it provides.

Terry Dougan, a retired arborist who works with JTs Tree Service in Effingham, said the EAB lays an egg in a crack or crevice of an ash tree. Soon that egg hatches and begins boring into the tree and eats the cambium layer of the tree, which is one of five layers of a tree trunk.

The tree trunk is made up of outer bark, inner bark, cambium cell layer, sapwood and heartwood, according to Arbor Day.org.

“The cambium is like the circulatory system, like your lungs are to your body,” said Dougan.

It all starts when the beetle bores into the layers of bark until it reaches the cell layer, which is the growing part of the tree. There are insecticides that can help a healthy tree or somewhat infected tree with the EAB, but it has to have a healthy circulatory system for it to help, said Dougan.

“But there is a preventive maintenance that can be done before damage happens,” said Dougan. “They won’t attack one if the tree is treated. Or if the damage or infestation is minor, it can be helped.”

Otherwise, the tree is usually cut down once damage has been done and branches begin to die.

Dougan, who has been involved in tree work for 34 years and was a certified arborist for 10 years, said he’d like to host an Arbor Day event to educate people about the EAB in Effingham County.

“Start by watching for small dead limbs,” said Dougan. “Woodpeckers will peck on these trees and squirrels will want to gnaw on the bark. And you’ll see bore holes, normally around the base of a tree. And soon you’ll see small shoots come off the trunk of a tree, which is a sign that it is trying to replace everything that is getting eaten.”

Schirmer said once an EAB comes into an area, it might take several years to build up to a noticeable level. As the population of the beetle increases, depending on the size of the tree it affects, it might take anywhere from three to seven years to see the issue.

“This makes early detection difficult,” said Schirmer. “It will preferentially initiate infestation in branches from four to six inches in diameter, so on larger trees, this will be high up in the canopy making detection even more difficult.”

Altamont has been hit hard with the beetle in recent years.

Altamont Mayor Jason Rippetoe said the EAB has been in town for some time now and the city has several hundred trees that are beyond repair and will have to be replaced.

“Right now our policy is to remove the ash trees and replace it with another tree,” said Rippetoe on Friday. “We’ve been planting multiple varieties.”

Rippetoe said Altamont is known as the Tree City USA and they plan to keep that status.

“It will be several hundred trees, but we intend to maintain that Altamont is a Tree City,” he said.

In Effingham, Park District Executive Director Jeff Althoff said he’s aware of about four to six trees that were lost to the EAB in the city’s parks.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext 138

EAB Facts:

• It attacks only ash trees (Fraxiinus spp.)

• Adult Beetles are metallic green and about 1/2 inch long.

• Adults leave a D-shaped exit hole in the bark when they emerge in spring.

• Woodpeckers like EAB larvae; heavy woodpecker damage on ash trees may be a sign of infestation.

• Firewood cannot be moved outside of many states, including Illinois, because of a Federal EAB Quarantine.

• It probably came from Asia in wood packing material.

Source: Illinois Department of Agriculture

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