The Emerald Ash Borer's seemingly insatiable march is one step closer to Rapid City and the estimated 40,000 ash trees whose fates seem sealed.
On Wednesday, the state’s Department of Agriculture reported the insect was found in Sioux Falls, the first confirmed infestation in the state after killing millions of ash trees in at least 32 states on its westward march across the nation.
Rapid City officials have seen this coming, however, and are taking steps to prepare for the onslaught. Last week, the City Council approved an Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan that while pro-active and sensible places a considerable burden on property owners.
According to the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation Forestry Division, around 40,000 ash trees are in city limits. Of that number, which makes up 20 percent of the city’s trees, 4,000 are on city land, 10,000 are along city streets and 26,000 are on private property.
The reason the city has so many ash trees is they were likely on a list of recommended trees to buy after Dutch elm disease ravaged the city in the 1980s. Ash trees grow relatively fast and do well in this area. Unfortunately, their popularity heightens concerns raised by an invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer.
“It is expected that ash tree losses to the city will be near 100 percent,” the management plan predicts.
The city's strategy is a bit of a mixed bag. First, it will start by removing 100 trees a year from city parks, golf courses and cemeteries. Trees on what is referred to as unmanaged city land that includes woodland areas and riparian zones will go untouched. At the same time, the city will invest in chemical treatments in a bid to save ash trees that are downtown, along West Boulevard, are memorial trees or are considered "large legacy" trees.
Residents, meanwhile, will be expected to absorb 100 percent of the cost of removing infected or dead ash trees from their property. Considering that ash trees represent 20 percent of the city's tree stock, it means the many homeowners who will watch their tax dollars used to save a protected class of trees and remove others from city property will have to bear all the costs to remove their own.
If hiring a tree-removal service was inexpensive, the policy would be easier to accept. But it isn't and likely is one reason the city requires homeowners to pay for it, which is consistent with current policy.
The city deserves credit for putting together a plan that may mitigate damage done by the voracious Emerald Ash Borer, but the plan could go further. The city needs to consider a way to help property owners with their costs as well. If, for example, homeowners are on a fixed income, it will be a financial burden for them that is being delegated by the city.
If this truly is a citywide problem, the City Council needs to consider what it can do to help everyone with the costs. One idea might be to negotiate contracts with tree-removal services that will reduce costs for residents and encourage them to remove their ash trees now rather than later. Surely, city staff can consider other ideas that help all property owners in the fight against the Emerald Ash Borer.