The emerald ash borer has had a devastating impact on ash tree forests in the East and Midwest, in some places wiping out the entirety of a community's ash trees. In September 2013, the invasive pest was discovered in Boulder, Colo., and is now moving into Utah.
A half-inch, metallic, emerald-colored insect, the emerald ash borer is notorious for laying eggs on ash tree bark. Once those eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the tree until they eventually emerge as adults. These actions damage the tree's tissues which are responsible for water and nutrient uptake.
Jason Barto, a community forester with Wasatch Back Trees, a local non-profit organization, is trying to spread awareness about the threat emerald ash borers pose to Utah and the steps residents can take to mitigate their impacts.
"Wasatch Back Trees is trying to promote stronger monitoring and vigilance [about emerald ash borers] here in Utah," Barto said. " the time you identify an emerald ash borer on an ash tree, that tree is essentially dead."
Although the nearby National Forests do not have large stands of ash trees, the primary impact would be on community forests and those trees found in parks, streets and yards. The key to preventing the pest's spread, Barto said, is proactive pruning, mulching, irrigation and weeding.
Since emerald ash borers are attracted to compounds given off by stressed ash trees, reducing tree stress through proper proactive use of those four areas is crucial.
"General good care towards your trees goes a long way to reducing the stress they go through," Barto said, adding that the diversity of trees planted is also important. "[Wasatch Back Trees] tries to plant different trees so that, when we do see an attack, we have trees that aren't going to be affected."
The spread of the emerald ash borer out West can be linked to packing material, Barto said, and their further spread is caused by people moving firewood from one location to another.
"Try to keep your firewood local. If you're using firewood, use Utah firewood," Barto said. "Practice good discipline by not moving wood around."
In 2013, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands funded a Tree Inventory and Community Forest Management Plan that was done by ArborDocs, a local consulting arborist firm, Barto said. That inventory showed that the ash species (Fraxinus spp.) comprises the following percentages of local community forests:
Wasatch Back Trees teaches individuals proper tree planting as well as post-planting tree care and the importance of species diversity on both the private lot and the community level. It also introduced a tree steward program, which trains people on tree identification and how to properly take care of trees.
Barto said he does not want to make people think that "the sky is falling" in regard to emerald ash borers in Utah, but emphasized each individual's part in halting their spread.
"Know that you have ash trees in your yard, watch them closely, do proactive work," Barto said.
For more information on Wasatch Back Trees, visit wasatchbacktrees.org.