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Ash borer watch continues in Lake County
By Mick Zawislak | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 3/31/2010 12:00 AM

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Will this be the breakout season for a tree killing beetle in northeastern Illinois?

"That's a good question. I don't think we have a good answer," said Warren Goetsch, whose responsibilities as division manager of natural resources for the Illinois Department of Agriculture include the emerald ash borer.

Arborists and others involved with managing trees in the public domain are closely watching the spread of the metallic green beetle, which has killed 25 million ash trees since first being confirmed in the Midwest eight years ago.

"We are monitoring the situation to make sure we don't get any problems with trees that cause public safety concerns," said Chuck Myers, assistant superintendent of natural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

Some ash trees were removed about two weeks ago from the district's ThunderHawk Golf Club in Beach Park. So far, that's the only confirmed site of the emerald ash borer in the forest preserve holdings, Myers said.

"We're taking them (ash trees) down if they're a risk factor. That's it," he said.

Damaged trees near a public trail, for example, will be removed, but those in the interior of a given preserve will not, he explained.

Difficult to detect, ash borer evidence or damage may not show up for three to five years after infestation.

"There will be a huge hole in the forest canopy when this really hits," Myers added. "It's inevitable. It's just a matter in the next few years we'll start seeing the damage."

Last week, the department of agriculture confirmed an infestation of the destructive beetle at a highway rest area in Iroquois County.

Detections previously have been made in Bureau, Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, LaSalle, McHenry, McLean and Will counties. All or parts of 21 counties in northern and central Illinois are under quarantine to prevent the spread of the pest.

Some communities and other entities also are taking action. While there is no evidence of the borer among its 200 ash trees, the Vernon Hills Park District, for example, last week informally authorized preventive injections to thwart the bug.

There are more than 3,000 ash trees along parkways in Vernon Hills. The village will remove ash trees as they die and replace them with different types of trees, as funding permits.

While pockets of infestations have been observed, they have not knit together. Goetsch said outreach programs, including warnings and bans against transporting potentially infested fire wood, may be working.

"I don't know we can say the infestation is moving like a wave. It is spreading, no doubt about it," Goetsch said.

The department is in its third year of putting "big purple traps" in trees and will continue its detection and awareness programs.