ELKHART — An unwelcome guest that has destroyed hundreds of the area’s trees was at the center of conversations at this weekend’s Arbor Day celebration in Elkhart.
An invasive insect called the emerald ash borer has wreaked havoc on ash trees throughout the county, including the Elkhart Environmental Center where dozens gathered Saturday, April 27, to mark Arbor Day.
“They estimate that somewhere around 15 percent of the trees in the county are ash, so they’re either going to be cut down or come down on their own,” said Jeff Burbrink, a local educator with the Purdue Cooperative Extension Service. “There’s a few select trees that people have decided they were going to treat to keep them from dying, but that’s probably pretty few and far between.”
The emerald ash borer’s larvae burrow beneath the bark of ash trees and deplete their water and food supplies until the tree dies. While the tiny insect made its way to Elkhart County a few years ago, most people probably started noticing trees dying about a year ago, Burbrink said.
“This year, it’s just accelerated tremendously,” he said. “You can’t hardly drive down the road without noticing it now. It’s just about everywhere.”
Elkhart mayor Dick Moore touted the city’s commitment to preserving its trees. In the past two weeks, he said the city forester and his crew have planted 30 new trees in the downtown area. Trees, Moore said, add to property values, enhance vitality of business districts and beautify the community.
There is still hope for ash trees in Elkhart, city forester Dan Coy explained.
“We will be treating some ash trees here in Elkhart,” he said. “We will not be without ash in the future, and the silver lining is the way this pest works is just in between the bark and the heartwood, so it leaves us with a lot of viable lumber.”
Saturday’s Arbor Day celebration also marked the opening of the environmental center’s new Reflection Grove, which sits among a group of ash trees. A deck and bench there were created using urban ash trees that were cut down just three miles away at Island Park.