Aberdeen is preparing for an attack.
The soldier? The tiny emerald ash borer beetle. The battlefield? The city's ash trees.
In March, City Forester Aaron Kiesz said the bug is "the most destructive forest insect to ever invade America."
And while the Asian beetle hasn't been spotted within city limits yet, it has been found in Sioux Falls. That means it's only a matter of time until we see it in the Hub City.
Once that happens, Kiesz believes the city is likely to be totally infested within two to three years. Then, he said, ash trees will be falling at an almost constant rate.
And that's a lot of trees: 4,800 boulevard trees, 15,000 private residence trees and 750 park trees. That's a staggering 40 percent of the city's trees.
Before that starts, Kiesz and his team have a plan. And we think that plan is a good one, even though it's unfortunate it has to be implemented.
Essentially, they plan to take out 5 percent of the city's ash trees every year. That's about 280 trees a year. And when the beetle shows up, that number will be increased to 10 percent annually.
Then, the forestry division will look at replacing the ash trees with a different species.
In fact, the planting of additional trees has already begun.
True to its name — or perhaps because of it — the emerald ash borer only affects ash trees. Kiesz said the insect will lay its eggs in the tree's bark. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the tree, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients. Basically, it starves the tree to death. And once the beetle infects the tree, there's no known treatment.
When the emerald ash borer arrives, those trees will have to come down. No questions asked.
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There isn't any way the city can leave infected trees standing — dead trees are a risk to people and property since they're more inclined to fall over or drop large branches.
If many trees are affected at once, it's hard to even imagine the cost of taking them all down at the same time.
By starting the thinning process now, the city will spread the cost of removing those trees over of several years, rather than being forced to digest the expense all at once.
And property owners won't feel so overwhelmed by removing the affected trees, either. Imagine the backlog of calls from all around Aberdeen. We can envision the wait being excruciating.
Not only does the city's plan ease the financial burden as much as possible, it ensures that we'll have canopies of trees in the future, though it will take time for them to mature.
Trees are scenic, provide shade for our hammocks and houses, serve as homes to birds, help the environment and so much more. So having a plan to replace the ash trees we lose is smart on many levels.
There is already a city ordinance in place that restricts the use of wood from the ash trees. Recently, the forestry department added an amendment with the goal of slowing the spread of the emerald ash borer by limiting the wood that comes to town that might be infested.
That means that it will be unlawful to store, dispose of or transport ash wood within city limits, and the wood must be deposited at designated collection sites outside city limits. Some think the ordinance is a good idea, while others wonder if people could use the ash wood while the beetle is dormant during a "non-flight" period from Sept. 1 to May 1.
But monitoring the use of the wood could create an enforcement headache for the city. And in this instance, we think it's smarter to be safe than sorry.
You can help by keeping an eye out for the emerald ash borer — an infestation leaves D-shaped holes in trees. Here's hoping you don't find them anytime soon.
In a perfect world, no trees would need to be cut down. They're beautiful and beneficial. They spruce up yards and parks and add dimension to our flat landscape. But there's a danger looming, and the city is wise to address it now, even if the emerald ash borer doesn't make its way to town for another decade.
If it's sooner than that, at least we're doing our best to be prepared.