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Thaila Cripe, 4, center, Zowie Cripe 5, left, and Cheyenne Cripe 6, right, run with new trees they plan to plant on their family's 20 acres in Constantine, Mich., on Saturday, April 27, 2013, during an Arbor Day celebration at the Elkhart Environmental Center. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore speaks Saturday, April 27, 2013, during an Arbor Day celebration at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Arbor Day celebration included a proclamation by the mayor, the dedication of a new Reflection Grove and opportunities to adopt and take home trees to plant. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Marks left by the Emerald Ash Borer are seen on ash trees that had to be cut down Saturday, April 27, 2013, during an Arbor Day celebration at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Arbor Day celebration included a proclamation by Mayor Dick Moore, the dedication of a new Reflection Grove and opportunities to adopt and take home trees to plant. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Don Steider shows off the grain of a piece of freshly-cut ash on Saturday, April 27, 2013, during Arbor Day celebrations at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Arbor Day celebration included a proclamation by Mayor Dick Moore, the dedication of a new Reflection Grove and opportunities to adopt and take home trees to plant. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP) (Buy this photo)

Jeff Burbrink of the Purdue Extension of Elkhart County holds an Emerald Ash Borer larva Saturday, April 27, 2013, during Arbor Day celebrations at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Emerald Ash Borer has caused extensive damage to Elkhart County's ash tree population, which Burbrink estimates accounts for about 15 percent of the trees in the county. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Elkhart Central senior Morgan Medlen stands beside one of the three sculptures he created to be permanently displayed at the Elkhart Environmental Center on Saturday, April 27, 2013. The three trees, which are alive, dying and dead, are symbolic of the damage caused to ash trees across Elkhart County by the Emerald Ash Borer. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Maxwell and Alexander Hanes play on ash trees that had to be cut down because of damage caused by the Emerald Ash Borer on Saturday, April 27, 2013, during Arbor Day celebrations at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Arbor Day celebration included a proclamation by Mayor Dick Moore, the dedication of a new Reflection Grove and opportunities to adopt and take home trees to plant. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)

Elkhart Mayor Dick Moore speaks Saturday, April 27, 2013, during an Arbor Day celebration at the Elkhart Environmental Center. The Arbor Day celebration included a proclamation by the mayor, the dedication of a new Reflection Grove and opportunities to adopt and take home trees to plant. (Truth Photo By Ryan Dorgan) (AP)
Arbor Day program highlights problems with invasive insects
Posted on April 27, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on April 27, 2013 at 3:36 p.m.

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.