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Experts detail advance of ash borer before House panel

Minnesota has nearly 1 billion ash trees, the most of any state. One in five community forest trees are ash, a number as high as 60% in some communities.

However, they remain under attack.

The emerald ash borer is a metallic green beetle that bores into ash trees and feeds on tissues beneath the bark, killing 99% of the trees it moves in to. It was discovered in southeast Minnesota about 11 years ago, and now 21 Minnesota counties are quarantined.

All ash trees are susceptible to the borer, from a 1-inch diameter tree to a towering 80-foot tall ash, said Amy Kay Kerber, forestry legislative and outreach supervisor for the Department of Natural Resources.

To help with the battle, the state allocated $700,000 from the General Fund last year to prepare community forests and the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources allocated $300,000 to plant new trees. How that money was used was laid out for the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division Thursday.

Gary Michael, cooperative forest management supervisor for DNR, said the $1 million is “great” but “more is needed.”

Programs funded with the $700,000 are expected to result in 1,027 trees removed and 1,311 trees planted. More than 2,000 trees are expected to be planted using the $300,000.

Craig Johnson, intergovernmental relations representative for the League of Minnesota Cities, said communities watching and wondering when the borer is going to affect them need to prepare now.

“You don’t want to be playing catchup with this,” he said.

About one-fourth of the trees in Brooklyn Park are ash. The city received $100,000 to remove and replant trees.

Public Works Director Dan Ruiz said about 100 trees have been removed so far. But with the average cost to remove a tree at about $700 and $300 to replant one, that money doesn’t go very far in a city with about 5,000 ash trees.

“It’s overwhelming,” he said, “but as they say, ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’”

It takes two generations to restore a canopy to pre-invasion levels, said Karen Zumach, president of the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee.

“St. Paul has spent nearly $12 million,” she said, “and there’s still a lot of dead trees to deal with.”

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