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News : Jodie Ellis part of teams tagging ash trees ahead of emerald ash borer's march

Jodie Ellis part of teams tagging ash trees ahead of emerald ash borer's march
by Dorothy Schneider Journal and Courier
Jodie Ellis and Perry Schnarr tie a purple card with information about the eab around an ash tree

For those who don't know what ash trees look like, they just got a little easier to identify in one Lafayette neighborhood.

Volunteers and entomology experts from Purdue teamed up Tuesday night to put purple tags on ash trees in the McAllister/St. Lawrence neighborhood on the city's north side.

The markings and informational tags on the trees are actually meant to inform property owners about emerald ash borer, an insect that threatens the viability of all ash trees in Tippecanoe County and in much of Indiana. In the coming weeks, tags will be put on ash trees in other neighborhoods across the county.

"We're trying to give the community a heads-up," said Jodie Ellis, exotic insect education coordinator at Purdue University.

The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle from Asia that attacks and kills North American ash trees. First found in Indiana in 2004, the insect tunnels on the wood's surface and slowly will kill every ash tree not protected with insecticides.  The beetle was identified in Tippecanoe County in early May. It primarily is transported long distances through human activity, such as moving infested wood or logs.

To slow its spread, state officials have imposed a county quarantine on ash material and hardwood firewood. The insect has been identified in 38 of Indiana's 92 counties, according to an Aug. 4 update from the state Department of Natural Resources.

But Ellis said the disease spread is just a matter of time at this point.  "We know it's coming and it's going to be a big issue for homeowners," she said.

Tracy Walder, who lives in the McAllister neighborhood and is chairwoman of the Lafayette Tree Advisory Committee, said she wants residents to be more aware of the devastation the disease will bring to the area's tree population.  "It's similar to what people refer to back when the American elms died out," she said. "If we start losing all of the ash trees, we will lose a great percentage of the urban canopy. It's going to affect a lot in (property) value, safety and aesthetics."

West Lafayette volunteers will start tagging ash trees in the Northwestern Heights neighborhood on Saturday.

Bev Shaw, greenspace coordinator for the city of West Lafayette, said most people don't recognize ash trees, but she said the tags will help change that.

According to West Lafayette's tree inventory, roughly 20 percent of trees in the public right of way are ash.

"It's because ash trees are tough as nails and they were readily available. They've got good fall colors. They've been heavily planted in both communities," Shaw said. "You can imagine, if you drive down the road, one out of every five trees being gone. That's quite an impact."

Although the West Side planners have been replanting trees for about seven years, Shaw said those new trees won't fully replace the old growth that will likely be lost to the emerald ash borer.  Officials are advising residents to take inventory of ash trees on their property to decide which trees are worth protecting and which might need to be cut down. Further instructions will be listed on the tags being put on neighborhood trees.  There are ways to protect healthy ash trees, including having a professional inject a product called Tree-age, which protects the tree for about three years. Topical insecticides can also be applied to the trunks annually.