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State unveils plan to fight ash borer

State unveils plan to fight ash borer

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois agriculture officials say they were distressed by what they saw when they visited Michigan recently to witness the devastation wrought by the emerald ash borer - a tree-killing beetle that has destroyed 15 million trees in Michigan and that's now been found in Illinois.

They saw "dead trees everywhere - in parks, in towns, along highways," said Warren Goetsch, manager of the Illinois agriculture department's Division of Natural Resources. "It's just an odd thing to see, really very depressing."

What they learned in Michigan was incorporated into a plan unveiled Sunday to help fight the metallic green bug, which was first detected in Illinois in a subdivision in central Kane County in June. More recently, the emerald ash borer was found in trees in Wilmette and Evanston, both in Cook County.

"Anything that has the potential to threaten the health of hundreds of thousands - even millions - of ash trees has to be dealt with immediately and thoroughly," Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in a statement Sunday announcing the eradication plan. "We're going to invest the time and resources to do just that."

One focus of the effort to save the estimated 130 million ash trees in Illinois will be on early detection.

The plan will use $7.6 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture earmarked for Illinois and Wisconsin to hire more staff to conduct surveys for the hard-to-detect beetle, which feeds on ash trees and eventual kills them.

It also creates an advisory team to give the state agriculture department advice on how to control the bug and remove invested trees.

The body, which is an extension of an existing team that has been preparing for the insect for more than two years, will also work with local communities on outreach and education programs.

In July, state officials imposed a 51-square-mile quarantine around the infested area in Kane County, and surveys are under way in Cook County to determine the extent of damage in Wilmette and Evanston.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Chuck Hartke, who was also in Michigan on the recent fact-finding trip, said he and Goetsch met with federal and local officials to discuss what has and hasn't worked for them as they battle the insect.

"We came away with a better understanding of what we're up against and effective ways to face it," he said.

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