Mayor Chris Beutler today was joined by State Senator Patty Pansing Brooks, Plattsmouth Mayor Paul Lambert and Dr. Scott Josiah of the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) in calling for cities and the state to be proactive in dealing with the emerald ash borer (EAB). The NFS estimates the invasive insect will cause more than $960 million in damages in Nebraska, but experience in other states shows the costs can be contained by taking action now.
The EAB is an invasive insect that has destroyed tens of millions of ash trees around the nation. Although it has not been detected in Nebraska, it has been sighted in surrounding states and may already be here.
"We are responsible for 14,000 public ash trees in Lincoln alone," Mayor Beutler said. "We cannot wait until damaged trees become brittle, fall apart and become a safety hazard. We have learned from other states that a proactive approach to treatment, removal and replacement can reduce the enormous cost to taxpayers."
Last year, Sen. Pansing Brooks introduced LB 461 that would have allocated funds to the existing Tree Recovery Act. She agreed that inaction is a disservice to Nebraska's legacy as "The Tree Planters State" and urged the public to find out more about the EAB program at the new NFS website, eabne.info.
"Many of my colleagues are aware of the threat that EAB poses," Sen. Pansing Brooks said. "However, until our constituents send a strong message that we must prioritize the recovery now, we may not see any action until after EAB has arrived. And we know that waiting is going to be far more expensive."
Plattsmouth Mayor Paul Lambert said unanticipated costs pose a major challenge for smaller communities. He said financial assistance from the state is one way to help offset the costs of treatment, removal and replacement.
"Plattsmouth is projected to spend over $90,000 to safely mitigate the issue with our ash trees," Lambert said. "Thankfully we are a large enough community that we can be flexible and more creative in finding funds. Unfortunately, that's not the case for the majority of communities around the state."
Last weekend, high school and college students began wrapping green ribbons around ash trees in parks, on the UNL campus and in the State Capitol area. The marked trees aren't slated for removal, but the ribbons are intended to raise awareness of the impact the EAB will have when it arrives.
"We're talking about the loss of 9 percent of all trees in Nebraska," said Dr. Josiah. "At the same time, it's important to remember that if we don't replant with tree diversity in mind, we could very well be in the same situation 50 years from now. The Dutch elm disease is an unfortunate example. Those lost trees were mostly replaced with ash species, putting us in the position we're in today."
The website at eabne.info includes recommendations for communities and homeowners in preparing for the arrival of the EAB.