BENTON — Close to 380 ash trees will be cut down at River Preserve County Park over the next two years because of an infestation of tiny green beetles that are killing the trees.
Emerald ash borers have been in Elkhart County for at least six years and have made their way into every county park, according to parks director Larry Neff.
“River Preserve has almost a monoculture of ash, so we’re just thinning out a lot of the larger ash, and that way we can plant other species and improve the habitat,” Neff said. “The public will notice that trees have been cut down, but it’s not something that’s denuding the land. We plan to do a restoration in some areas, but we don’t have tons of money to do it. Slowly but surely, we will be replanting.”
The infestation is unparalleled in Elkhart County, Neff said.
“In all my time here, I never remember ever having to cut down trees like this,” he explained.
Jeff Burbrink, a local educator with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service, estimates that ash trees represent 10 to 12 percent of trees in Elkhart County.
“There isn’t a part of the county that hasn’t been affected by ash borers,” he added.
The beetles lay eggs that hatch into larvae on ash trees. The larvae tunnel below the bark, where they feed off of the tree’s nutrients and water supply. Within two to three years, infected trees start to show signs of dying.
Neff said the parks department will evaluate trees’ overall health before cutting them down. Symptoms of an ash borer-infested tree include dead limbs, a bare canopy and chip marks from woodpeckers trying to get to the larvae underneath the bark.
Neff said parks department has already chopped down ash trees in Bonneyville Mill and Ox Bow county parks. The department will concentrate on cutting down trees at River Preserve in areas where people usually go, such as shelters and trails, to minimize the risk of someone being injured by a falling tree limb.
Want more information on emerald ash borers?
Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Entomology and Plant Pathology: (866)-663-9684
Purdue University’s Emerald Ash Borer Outreach and Education Program: (765) 494-0822 or www.extension.entm.purdue.edu/eab
Elkhart Environmental Center: (574) 293-5070