The emerald ash borer devastates ash tree populations. Here’s how K-State is preparing for the beetle’s arrival

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A "girdled" ash tree stands outside Kedzie Hall on Tuesday, June 4, 2019. The tree tests for infestation of the emerald ash borer. Thirty-five trees will be removed from campus each year in anticipation of the insect's arrival. (Rachel Hogan | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State has already begun the process of removing ash trees in anticipation of the spread of the emerald ash borer beetle, an invasive insect species whose larvae are destroying ash tree populations across North America.

If you’ve been on campus recently, you may have noticed a handful of ash trees on campus (specifically around Dole, Kedzie and Shellenberger halls) with the outer layer of bark scraped off in a ring around the base, with a sign warning not to disturb it. These “girdled” trees are sacrificed in order to detect potential EAB infestation.

While the girdled trees on campus did not yield any signs of the EAB in 2018, K-State has taken a proactive management plan to reduce the effects that the invasive insect will inevitably have on the university.

The removal and treatment strategy is taking place over the course of the next five years and has already begun with the trees that are in poor condition.

“We can’t save them all,” said Cathie Lavis, professor of horticulture and natural resources. “We are realistic, and we realize that first and foremost that the emerald ash borer … is probably going to those stressed trees anyway, and those will be the first to go down.”

Lavis has played an influential role in K-State becoming certified in Tree Campus USA, an Arbor Day Foundation program that helps colleges and universities establish and sustain healthy community forests.

The EAB, which lacks natural predators in North America, spreads rapidly and is threatening forests across the country. The insect has already been identified in eight counties in Kansas, the closest one to K-State being Shawnee County.

“The tragedy with the emerald ash borer is that it doesn’t care what kind of ash tree it is … that’s why this particular insect is so devastating,” Lavis said.

The question of the EAB making its way to Manhattan is not a matter of if, but when.

“We will have EAB on this campus, absolutely no doubt,” Lavis said.

Kim Bomberger, district community forester for north central and northeast Kansas, was an essential part of writing K-State’s Emerald Ash Borer Readiness and Response Plan, which details the management plan for Kansas State’s ash trees ahead of EAB infestation.

As the district community forester for the Kansas Forest Service, Bomberger has experience helping other cities in Kansas deal with the spread of the EAB in their communities.

“This is not a problem you want to let get ahead of you,” Bomberger said.

Bomberger said it’s important for people to realize that not all of the ash trees on campus are going to be removed. Trees that have been identified as historic, iconic or large healthy specimens will be treated with an insecticide.

“A lot of the trees are gonna be removed, but not all of them,” Bomberger said.

The inventory conducted in July 2017 found that of the 251 trees on the Manhattan campus, half were rated in fair condition, 32 percent in good condition, 18 percent in poor condition and two trees (1 percent) were dead.

The removal process is eliminating trees in poor condition trees first, and will take place at the rate of 35 trees per year, according to the EAB Readiness Team.

The readiness and response plan outlines potential projects for utilizing the wood that is removed. Options include the use of trees are as interior use in new construction projects at K-State, renovations of University buildings, lab instruction, landscape structures, art and mulch for campus landscapes.

Bomberger said the best thing people can do reduce the spread of the EAB is to not transport firewood to a different community. Additionally, Bomberger recommends planting different kinds of trees, rather than any single species, to cultivate a diverse landscape.

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My name is Rebecca Vrbas. I’m the assistant culture editor at the Collegian and a junior in journalism and mass communications. My hobbies include obsessing over an ever-expanding pool of musicals and cats (not the musical). I love writing because of the infinite intricacy of language, as well as its power to cultivate a sense of community through sharing experiences.