A tiny, iridescent-green beetle is poised to attack and kill ash trees in Lee’s Summit.
It’s only a matter of time, conservationists say, before the emerald ash borer turns up in this community.
Recently a passerby noticed a dead tree on Douglas Street, north of Chipman Road, that he thought was infested with the emerald ash borer, a species from Asia that’s spreading through the Midwestern and Eastern states and killing many millions of trees.
He called the city and Missouri’s conservation department.
Chuck Conner, an urban forester with the conservation department’s office at the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area, checked on that tree. He determined the culprits were native insects that were borers, but he found no evidence of the invasive species.
Nevertheless, he said, Lee’s Summit residents who have ash trees in their landscaping need to be prepared for the problem
“There’s no need to panic,” Conner said, “But if there is an ash tree in your yard, a decision will have to be made.”
The pest is in Kansas City and other nearby areas. It will find its way to Lee’s Summit because it has no natural predators. Conner said preventive treatments for individual trees before an infestation is the only way to save them.
The best time to begin treatment is in the fall or spring, Conner said, so owners of ash trees might want to begin researching their options.
They should first decide whether the tree is worth keeping.
If it’s too close to the house or power lines, or already ailing, it might be better to plant another, resistant species in a better spot.
Keeping the tree free of borers means treating them at least every two years with chemicals, often injected into the tree.
Trying to wait until there are signs of an infestation doesn’t work because the insect is hard to detect, Conner said, and once the bugs are noticed, the tree probably has too much damage to survive.
Conner said homeowners could do the work themselves if the tree trunk is under 20 inches in diameter, as measured 4 1/2 feet off the ground. Conner suggests hiring a professional arborist if the tree is larger, getting several bids and checking references.
Tom Lovell, parks administrator, said the Lee’s Summit parks system doesn’t have many ash trees and isn’t planning to actively fight the pests.
Parks employees will just watch for any dying or dead trees.
“It’s cost-prohibitive,” Lovell said. “We’ll take the losses and replace them with trees that are more resistant.”
Native ash trees are not as common in Missouri as other regions, Conner said. They do occur naturally along rivers, he said.
Some Lee’s Summit neighborhoods are preparing for the inevitable.
In the Winterset subdivisions in west Lee’s Summit, about 1,100 ash trees were planted along boulevards before the problem was recognized.
Winterset developer David Gale said his company switched to planting honey locust trees about six years ago.
He said the losses could be heavy along streets in the earlier phases, but with there being tens of thousands of other trees flourishing in the several subdivisions, the problem is more of a “hiccup” than a disaster. He said he has plans for replacing several hundred trees a year.
Affected ashes won’t all die in a single season, he said.
Lovell and Gale noted the emerald ash borer isn’t the only pest posing a challenge to trees. Infestation has been a longstanding issue as worldwide trade allows pests to hitchhike along with goods, causing the U.S. to lose many other trees such as elms and chestnuts.
Chuck Wainscott, property manager for the Five Neighborhoods of Winterset Homeowners Association, said about 150 ash trees are planted in common areas owned by the association.
Because of the expense, he said, the association’s board decided to concentrate on taking care of those trees. Treatment for one tree is between $60 and $75, he said. The association may begin treating some of those ash trees next year, while culling others and replacing them with different varieties.
“We’ll let the cards fall where they may on the street trees. It seems inevitable that it’s going to happen ...” Wainscott said. “It will certainly make a difference in the way things look around here.”