Trees, Prairies, and the Emerald Ash Borer

February, 2014

Lincoln -- The invasion of the emerald ash borer is upon us. It is disappointing that we will lose so many ash trees, but it is doubly disappointing to see Nebraskans' reactions to the invasion.

Many commenters responding to a news article rushed to provide information about pesticide treatments. There was even a suggestion that a cost-benefit analysis is needed to evaluate the cost of saving a tree with pesticides as opposed to the cost of cutting it down. Nowhere, neither in the article itself nor amid the immediate reactions, was there a discussion that there is a huge downside to using pesticide treatments to try to control the emerald ash borer: the treatments are toxic to pollinators. The pesticides are associated with colony collapse disorder in bees. Although CCD seems to have several causes, this is one of them.

Even the experts cited in the article also did not mention the issue with use of pesticides. Perhaps they are not as aware of the matter as they should be, because Nebraska leadership in alerting citizens to the dangers has been turned over, incredibly, to the manufacturers of the products.

We will lose many ash trees on our prairie, which were planted three decades ago following a plan of the state forester and NRCS. The plan now seems ill-advised in the sense that it diminished prairie habitat. The loss of the trees has an upside in that we can adjust the plan to provide more space for native plants that support pollinators.

We'll cut down the ash trees and put them on the burn pile along with the Scots pines that have succumbed to the pine wilt nematode. Last fall I attended a lecture at UNL at which a speaker apologized with a chuckle for having picked the Scots pine as the (latest) perfect tree for Nebraska. He should have apologied for the hubris that leads to thinking that nature is so manipulable by man.