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Ash borer

An adult emerald ash borer sits on a leaf. It can take several years for an infestation to kill an ash tree, offering plenty of time for treatment.

State and local forestry experts are concerned about a federal government proposal to eliminate the emerald ash borer quarantine that prohibits moving untreated ash lumber out of the states that are under the quarantine.

The proposed rule change would end the federal quarantine and direct the money now used for those regulations toward research and the use of a bio-control. One such bio-control is tiny, stingless wasps, a natural predator of the emerald ash borer.

However, Nebraska forestry experts say the federal quarantine has helped slow the spread of the emerald ash borer, which burrows under a tree's bark to lay its larva and kill most ash trees in a community within a decade.

“Keeping the quarantine in place would help our communities have time to prepare,” said Laurie Stepanek, forest health specialist with the Nebraska Forest Service. 

In a recent letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Nebraska State Forestry Service opposed ending the federal quarantine.

“The quarantine has not completely stopped EAB, but it has been an extremely valuable tool in slowing its spread,” John A. Erixson, state forester and director of the Nebraska Forest Service, said in the letter.

Erixson listed a number of benefits Nebraska will see from a continued federal quarantine: 

* Increase the lifespan of ash trees.

* Delay the need for treatment, perhaps for many years.

* Buy time for communities to conduct tree inventories and to develop a preparedness plan.

* Provide time for newly planted replacement trees to grow and become functional in the urban canopy.

Emerald ash borer would have spread more quickly without the federal quarantine, said Lynn Johnson, director of Lincoln’s Park and Recreation Department.

Delaying the arrival of the insect in Lincoln gave the city time to plan. Over the past few years, anticipating the spread of the insect to the city, Lincoln has been able to create a multi-year plan to deal with the death of thousands of ash trees.

Johnson said his understanding is that current research shows the biological treatment program cannot completely control the insect.

You have to use a more fully comprehensive strategy in addressing the emerald ash borer, he said.

Shifting money into bio-control will not slow the insect's spread, according to Erixson's letter.

The research indicates there is no strong evidence that the wasps can slow the spread of emerald ash borer on their own, he wrote.

The federal government announced the proposal to lift the federal ban Sept. 19 and is accepting comments until Nov. 19.

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In the proposal, the Department of Agriculture says ending the quarantine could save companies that sell ash products an estimated $18.8 million annually.

The department proposal acknowledges that the quarantine has likely slowed the spread of the emerald ash borer. But the volume of regulatory activities grows as the quarantine size grows.

The federal document also says the USDA expects states will continue to impose restrictions on movement of firewood.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture is not consider lifting its emerald ash borer quarantine, regulating the movement of ash products within the state, according to spokeswoman Christin Kamm.

In fact, the Nebraska department expanded the state quarantine Nov. 1 from five to eight counties, based on evidence that the insect is now in those counties. 

Lancaster County is now included in that ban, since the emerald ash borer was found in Lincoln this summer.

The other counties are Douglas, Sarpy, Cass, Washington, Dodge, Otoe and Saunders. 

The federal quarantine is focused on the interstate movement of regulated articles. The Nebraska quarantine mirrors the federal quarantine requirements but also enforces restrictions on the movement of regulated articles within the state, Kamm said in an email response to questions.

Currently, 35 states are either under partial or full federal emerald ash borer quarantine, according to Kamm.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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