Tree-killing beetle now bores into West Allis

Emerald ash borer becomes unwelcome guest in yet another area community

The tiny emerald ash borer sitting on a tree in Elkhorn. This photo was taken in July.

The tiny emerald ash borer sitting on a tree in Elkhorn. This photo was taken in July.

Aug. 27, 2013

West Allis — The highly destructive emerald ash borer now resides in West Allis.

The first confirmed sighting in the city of the ash-tree-killing beetles was within the Wisconsin State Fair grounds off 84th Street and Greenfield Avenue. Two ash trees were found to be heavily infested in the DNR section.

Department of Natural Resources officials confirmed the local presence of the emerald ash borer last week. A full inspection of the DNR park will take place next week, and a decision will be made as to the fate of the ash trees.

The emerald ash borer has killed millions of trees in other states on a par with the Dutch elm disease of the 1960s and 1970s that wiped out nearly all American elms.

So far, the emerald ash borer has been confirmed in Greenfield, Franklin, Greendale, Oak Creek, South Milwaukee, Cudahy, Brown Deer and Milwaukee in Milwaukee County and in Oconomowoc and Mukwonago in Waukesha County.

Signs of a long stay

Ash trees can be treated for the beetle, whose larvae feeds on a tree's inner bark, but treatment is expensive and not effective for trees where the borer is far down the trunk — as is the case with the two West Allis trees that were found to be infected, said Kim Sebastian, regional urban forestry coordinator.

The holes the borer leaves as it emerges from the trunk are low enough to be noticed on the trunks of the two trees at the DNR park, which tells officials something unsettling.

"If you can see (the holes), it means (the beetles) have been in the tree for several years," Sebastian said.

Ash borers start at the tops of trees and work their way down, she said.

Fearing devastation

It's too soon to guess what will happen to the leafy and shaded DNR area, which also includes other tree species and stands in stark contrast to the asphalt and buildings that dominate the fairgrounds, Sebastian said.

"It's a beautiful area," she said.

Fairground officials concur and share the DNR's concerns.

"It's unfortunate and we hope we don't lose a lot of trees in the DNR park because it's so beautiful and people really enjoy it," said Kristi Chuckel, communication and marketing manager at the fair.

Fair officials are awaiting the outcome of the DNR survey and decision-making before moving ahead on any plan for the remaining trees on the grounds, Chuckel said.

The city also knows the threat is now truly local well beyond the fairgrounds.

Michael Lewis, West Allis director of public works, estimated that better than one out of four city-owned street trees are ash trees — or about 4,000 trees. That's doesn't include a similar number of ash trees on private property.

"It was just a matter of time," Lewis said. "It's really too bad because it devastates whole sections. ... It means big problems, like it has for other communities."

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