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They found the first bug in August, in a treetop trap they set northwest of Pioneers Park.

But city and state officials had been preparing for the emerald ash borer — and its potential to exterminate any ash tree in its path — for more than a decade.

The Asian insect has been eating its way west across the U.S. since the early 2000s, when it was confirmed in North America. And it doesn’t travel alone.

“There isn’t ever just one,” said Lorri Grueber, the city’s community outreach forester. “We know that fellow we found last summer has friends.”

Hungry friends. The insects have already killed tens of millions of trees in other states — at an estimated cost of nearly $11 billion, according to the U.S. Forest Service — and will be equally merciless to Lincoln’s estimated 65,000 public and private ash trees.

Here, at the dawn of the attack, is what you need to know:

If you suspect your tree is infested

It might not be the emerald ash borer. It could be a native borer attacking your tree, or some other problem, said Sarah Browning, an educator with University of Nebraska Extension.

You can start the diagnosis by calling the extension office, 402-441-7180, or the Nebraska Forest Service, 402-782-1816. They’ll consider the symptoms and, if they believe it’s an emerald ash borer infestation, will ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture for confirmation.

You can save your trees

A dead tree is a deep loss, Grueber said. “Look at all the things these trees do for us.”

They provide relief from the sun and heat that can lower your energy bill and protect your sidewalk. They help manage stormwater. They can add up to 20 percent to your property value.

“To just cut it down and plant a new species may not be your best option,” she said.

If your ash is mature enough — at least 14 inches in diameter — and healthy enough and would otherwise live a long life, she suggested treating it with emamectin benzoate, a chemical that can kill all stages of the bug’s life, from larvae to adult.

But you have to be a committed caregiver. “It’s basically geriatric care. Once you start to preserve the life of that tree, you need to continue it.”

Because the invasion is in its infancy, pest pressure is low, she said. Meaning, if you treat your tree this year, the chemical should be good for three years. And the next treatment should be good for three years.

The time it right, and you could get another decade out of your tree with just a few injections.

And that might be almost enough to make it through the worst of the war. It typically takes 12 to 15 years for the ash borer to move through a community, she said. It never leaves entirely, but its population crashes as the insects move on, searching for a new food supply.

The cost of treatment varies, depending on the pest-control company you hire. For now, expect to pay $200 to $300 per treatment, she said. But even treating a tree several treatments could still be cheaper than having it cut down.

If you decide to remove your tree

If your tree is smaller than 14 inches in diameter, or already unhealthy, Grueber recommends replacing it with another species.

This is the approach the city is taking with all of its 10,000 ash trees. It has a goal of replacing 1,000 trees a year, and has already removed up to 2,800 trees, she said.

The cost of tree removal ranges widely — from hundreds of dollars to thousands — depending on size, location and logistics.

You should act fast

For two reasons. Again, because pest pressure is still low, chemical treatments applied now will last longer. And prices for treatment and tree removal are bound to rise as demand increases, Grueber said.

“The businesses know it’s coming, that it’s easy money,” she said.

You should watch out

After the infestation, expect the scam artists. “It will get ugly. They are already here. There are some companies in town, they’ve been going door to door, saying, ‘Let me treat your ash tree.’ But they’re not even able to identify an ash tree.”

She’s heard of companies in other states injecting trees with Kool-Aid or colored water.

“Like roofers in hailstorms. They come in and take advantage of people who didn’t do their homework.”

Homeowners should ask to see an arborist or pesticide-applicator licenses. They should ask for references. They should get estimates.

“Ask a lot of questions,” she said. “We have time. This is our first summer. It does not have to be a knee-jerk reaction.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7254 or psalter@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSPeterSalter.

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Peter Salter is a reporter.

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