Emerald ash borer infests Janesville trees

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012
— The credit for discovering the first sign of a tree-killing insect in Janesville goes to a 5-year-old boy with keen eyes.

The insect is the emerald ash borer, which has killed millions of trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and elsewhere. It's been in Wisconsin for several years.

Artie Anderson was watching a video about the borers last week with his parents, Robin and Matt Anderson.

Both parents are members of the Rock Prairie Master Gardeners, so they were linked on Facebook to UW Extension horticulture educator Mike Maddox.

Maddox had posted the video.

"Artie likes learning about that stuff," Robin said.

After watching the video, "we decided to come out here and look at our tree," Robin said.

Artie raced ahead of his parents and quickly spied a telltale D-shaped hole that the emerald ash borer beetle makes when it emerges from under the bark.

The holes are tiny and difficult to spot on the rugged bark.

"At least we don't have the beetles," Robin remarked to Matt.

"Well, what's that?" Matt responded.

Sure enough, they saw a small green bug that quickly flew away. Robin later found a dead beetle, most of it still inside the bark. She pulled it out with a toothpick, took photos and sent them to Maddox.

Maddox, who lives in Madison, shared the photos with his neighbor, state entomologist Phil Pelleterri. Both thought it looked like the feared beetle. They informed Mick Skwarok, who specializes in emerald ash borer for the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

"Mike (Maddox) always says there's no such thing as a horticultural emergency, so I was kind of surprised when Mick was out at my house at 9 o'clock the next morning," Robin said.

A lab in Michigan confirmed the beetle's species Monday. That's when the state announced the discovery.

The tree, next to the driveway of the Andersons' home on Eastwood Avenue on Janesville's east side, had been showing signs of stress—dead branches and woodpecker damage—since the spring, Robin said, but a lot of different things could have caused it.

Robin feels bad for her neighbors and a bit like Typhoid Mary.

"When you find something like this, you kind of feel like you brought the plague, but it's been here, likely, three to five years," Robin said.

DNR forester Jeff Roe, who showed up at the Andersons' home Monday with a contingent of city workers, estimated two to four years.

Also Monday, the state announced emerald ash borers were found on two survey traps in the Richard Bong State Recreation Area in Kenosha County. It was the first time an infestation was discovered on state land.

Visitors will no longer be allowed to remove firewood from the Bong area.

Ash borer infestations were found in and near Lake Geneva and in Mukwonago in recent weeks.

The state set traps for emerald ash borers in Janesville in 2011, Skwarok told The Gazette.

About 40 traps were deployed in the city. The closest to the Andersons' tree was about eight-tenths of a mile, Skwarok said. No ash borers were found in the traps.

Infestations now have been discovered in 12 Wisconsin counties: Brown, Crawford, Kenosha, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Rock, Vernon, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha.

Quarantines are in effect in 10 of those counties. Rock and Walworth counties should have quarantines in place in about two weeks, but residents should act as if they're already in place, Skwarok said.

For most people, it means no moving of hardwood firewood—no matter what species—outside the quarantine area. Emerald ash borers can fly no more than a mile in a season, but many infestations were caused when the larvae hitched rides in firewood transported by humans, scientists believe.

It's possible that the infestation is confined to the Andersons' yard, Skwarok said, but it's not likely.

"You might get that lucky, but experience has shown that when it's in an area for a handful of years that there are potentially a lot of trees that are going to have the problem," Skwarok said.

Robin fears the worst: "I bet it's in more neighborhoods than you can count on your hands and toes."

"Anything in this neighborhood, I'd be suspicious of," Roe said to the city workers as he conducted an impromptu seminar in EAB detection as they stood in the Andersons' driveway.

"It's probably in a lot of trees around here, and you'll start to see more in a year or two," Roe said.

The Andersons' neighborhood has a variety of trees, which means it won't be bare even if all the ash trees disappear. But the neighborhood features some prominent ash trees, including one in the Andersons' backyard.

It's a special tree for Artie.

"We were going to build a tree fort in there for him," Robin said. "Now, we're going to have to cut it down."

Last updated: 8:42 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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