BLOOMINGTON — The emerald ash borer continues to march and munch its way across Illinois — with McLean County continuing to see the impact.
Even those who have not fully felt the effects are resigned to the fact that there is no escape.
“I thought maybe I’d be the lucky one and they wouldn’t find my tree,” said Heather Wilcox, Illinois State University’s arborist. “I’m not one of the optimistic people any more who thinks it’s going to miss me.”
Likewise, Randy Stein, executive director of the Bloomington-Normal Water Reclamation District, thinks it only a matter of time before the invasive, tree-killing insect shows up at a tree farm on Shirley Road, just west of U.S. 51, where there are 15,000 ash trees on the bugs’ buffet table.
“We’re keeping our fingers crossed,” Stein said. “I know it’s an inevitable thing.”
Last week, Rock Island County became the 31st county in Illinois where an ash borer infestation has been confirmed.
Forty-one Illinois counties — including McLean and surrounding counties, except Logan and Tazewell — are under a quarantine order.
The quarantine prohibits moving from the county a variety of wood and wood products, including ash trees of any size, ash limbs and branches, any item made from or containing wood from an ash tree that is capable of spreading the ash borer and any cut, nonconiferous firewood.
The quarantine is designed to prevent “human-assisted” spread of the beetle through infested wood and nursery stock, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture.
More than 25 million ash trees have been killed since the ash borer was detected near Detroit, Mich., in 2002, according to the Department of Agriculture. The first emerald ash borers were discovered in McLean County in 2008.
The small, metallic-green beetles are native to Asia. The larvae burrow into the bark and cause the trees to starve and eventually die.
Wilcox said the damage usually begins at the top of the tree. Thinning and yellowing leaves, shoots at the base of the tree and D-shaped holes in the bark are among the signs of infestation. A fact sheet from the state said woodpeckers love the ash borer larvae and heavy woodpecker damage also can be a sign of the bug.
“It looks like someone has been shooting at it with BBs,” said Wilcox, describing an infested tree that attracted eager woodpeckers.
Wilcox said ISU had just under 200 ash trees on campus when she started seven years ago. There are about 10 left.
Of the 10 that are left, she said, “none of them are big. None of them are nice.”
Wilcox said they counted the growth rings on one large ash tree after it was cut down and it was 107 years old.
“It kind of broke my heart,” she said.
Stein said there are about eight to 10 trees at the district’s West Oakland Avenue facility that will have to be cut down this fall or winter. They will play a waiting game with the trees at the tree farm. Fortunately, the ash trees at the tree farm are only 3 to 4 inches in diameter, making them easier to cut down and run through a wood chipper than larger trees, Stein said.
Randy Thorndyke, forester for the town of Normal, said the town has removed about 75 percent of the ash trees located on city property. The largest remaining concentration is at Ironwood Golf Course, he said.
“Those will be taken down this winter, if the weather permits,” Thorndyke said.
Last year the town removed about 350 to 375 ash trees, according to Thorndyke, who thinks this year’s total will be similar.
Thorndyke said the town tries to plant 200 trees in spring and fall.
Knowing the ash borer was spreading, the town started planting trees in the medians on Broadway Street and Franklin Avenue, between ash trees that would eventually have to be cut down, Thorndyke said. That gave the newer trees an opportunity to grow and get established so the removal of the ash trees would not be as dramatic, he explained.
Trees on private property are the responsibility of the owner. Costs vary depending on the size of a tree and its location, Thorndyke said, but removal of an average size tree costs about $1,000.