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OPINION: This is one bad beetle sort-of creature

About eight years ago, I had a conversation with a state tree expert about a wicked little bug called the Emerald Ash Borer. The ash borer is an exotic, beetle sort-of creature, green in color, originally from somewhere in Asia. I was told it shi...

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

About eight years ago, I had a conversation with a state tree expert about a wicked little bug called the Emerald Ash Borer.

The ash borer is an exotic, beetle sort-of creature, green in color, originally from somewhere in Asia. I was told it shipped into the United States in a wooden packing crate and was first discovered here somewhere around Detroit in 2002. At the time of the interview with the tree guy (his real title was urban forester), the creature was slowly working its way across the country, killing every ash tree in its path.

The tree expert was upset, and he wanted to talk about it. He said people all across South Dakota were planting ash trees - a lot of them were planting green ash - even though there was a vicious and voracious little insect out there that could destroy whole neighborhoods of ash trees in the blink of an eye.

This was 2010. That was eight years after the first emerald ash borer was discovered in Michigan and eight years from today, when, like the settlers of old, the insects have pushed their way west.

Like many other kids from the tree-challenged prairie of central and western South Dakota, I've always taken a lively interest in trees. I watched my dad dig up small cottonwood trees near the dam in the north pasture and transplant them into our yard at the farm. I watched him carry water a bucket at a time to try to keep them growing. I saw him go to town and bring home pickup loads of free trees from some government program and plant them in the shelterbelts on the north side of the house and west near the stock tank. Trees were incredibly important to him, and so they have always been important to me.

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The tree guy I talked with eight years ago was angry because he and others like him loved trees about as much as my dad did. The tree guy had been warning citizens and communities that the ash borer was headed this way. He was trying to convince folks to plant several different species of trees, so that if one bug takes one species, it will require a whole different sort of bug to take another species. And maybe another bug wouldn't be as destructive as the ash borer, which eats bark and destroys an ash tree's ability to store water and nutrients. The tree dies from the top down, an online source said.

The emerald ash borer has been much in the news in South Dakota in recent weeks, ever since it was confirmed that the bug had reached Sioux Falls. You perhaps saw or read news reports when that confirmation was made. Another online source said that as of last month, the borer had been confirmed in 33 states, as well as the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.

Another reason the tree guy wanted to talk to me back then? I'd just planted three green ash trees along my boulevard. I didn't know anything about emerald ash borer at the time. I just knew that ash trees grew fast, and, like my dad, I wanted more trees on my land.

When we moved into that house in 1972, we had more shade that you can imagine. Then we lost a couple of tall, strong trees. Not sure what they were, but they looked like aspens on steroids. They just rotted from the inside. My chainsaw sliced through them like they were sticks of margarine.

After that, Dutch elm disease arrived. I watched it march up Capitol Avenue from one elm to another along the boulevard by the governor's mansion. My three elms seemed healthy, though, until one day they didn't. I decided to plant something that would give me quick shade. Enter the green ash.

Those trees grew quickly, as advertised. They were standing when we moved from that house three years ago. But the emerald ash borer hadn't been confirmed in the state then. I kind of wish I'd planted just one ash and maybe a linden or two. My tree expert probably wished that, too.

Related Topics: TERRY WOSTER
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