State and federal forestry officials have searched all corners of the state for the tree-killing emerald ash borer.
They looked for the pest’s tell-tale signs in parks, communities and campgrounds from Falls City to Chadron, South Sioux City to Scottsbluff. The split bark, D-shaped exit holes, increased woodpecker activity and, of course, dead and dying ash trees.
So far, no borers.
But they have found another symptom, one that has moved across the country in concert with the deadly bug: Ash borer scammers.
The Nebraska Forest Service recently issued a warning, saying it had received unconfirmed reports of door-to-door swindlers trying to convince Nebraska homeowners to pay for tree treatments to keep the beetles at bay.
“When someone comes to your door saying they have the end-all, be-all treatment for ash trees, that should be at least a cause of concern for a homeowner right there,” said the forest service’s Kyle Martens.
Since its discovery in Michigan in 2002, the emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of trees, with damage detected in 25 states. And news reports of scammers offering costly treatment or urging immediate removal have spread alongside the infestations.
But until the bugs are confirmed in Nebraska, it would be premature to take out ash trees or try to treat them. In fact, until the ash borer is within 15 miles of a tree, chemical treatment could do more damage than good.
“You’re weakening the tree over a much longer period,” Martens said.
Homeowners can take steps to protect themselves. A tree company representative on your porch should be the first sign of a scam, he said: Most reputable companies don’t solicit door to door.
And homeowners interested in removal or treatment should hire arborists certified by the Nebraska Arborists Association or the International Society of Arboriculture.
Homeowners can call the state association at 402-761-2219 or visit nearborists.org to verify certification, said Lon Nutter, president of the Nebraska Arborists Association.
They should also ask for proof the arborist has both liability insurance and a pesticide applicator’s license, Nutter said.
So far, Nutter’s group hadn’t received any complaints of door-to-door solicitors, he said.
The state forest service, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture are continuing to look for signs of the borers and by setting traps in high-risk areas.
But it’s too soon to say when the beetles -- believed to have arrived in the U.S. from Asia in wood packing material -- could cross the border from Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado, all states with confirmed infestations.
Or if they’re here already.
“It’s difficult to say, it really is,” Martens said. “They can lie dormant in an area, not showing any signs of infestation, after three to five years.”