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Invasive beetle could pose real threat

West Fargo City Commissioners are taking a proactive educational stance against an imminent threat - the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle of the woodborer family that has infested several states in the upper Midwest, including Westland, Michigan, a community comparable in size to West Fargo.

The ½ inch metallic green bug attacks all species of ash trees and once it does continues to manifest and spread at a very fast rate killing what were once completely healthy trees. There is no proven effective treatment - only quarantine and ultimately tree removal and proper disposal of the wood remains, involving chipping to ensure that the beetles are destroyed, followed by burning or burying the refuse. Using an insecticide could also be an option, but in most instances the cost is prohibitive with the end result removal of the tree anyway.

Commissioner Lou Bennett, who holds the City's forestry department portfolio, said the infestations are "growing by leaps and bounds" and he wants West Fargo officials to be on the alert by taking all preventative measures possible. "We can't keep our heads in the sand. It's not a matter of if it's coming, but when it's going to get here. The City would take a big hit financially if we got infested."

To back this statement up, Bennett said that officials in Westland have already invested $3 million in ash tree removal and that cost doesn't include removing the stumps.

The adult beetle causes little damage only nibbling on the foliage; however, it is the larvae that is the culprit, as it serpentines itself around the tree, feeding on the inner bark and cutting off the conducting vessels so it can't absorb water and nutrients. The end result is d-shaped exit holes in the bark as the beetle emerges in the spring.

How do you know if you have an infected tree? There are several telltale signs, including leaf shedding from the top of the tree on down; holes in the tree itself; and a bunch of new shoots attempting to thrive at the base of the tree as its upper extremities are being destroyed. Woodpeckers also like to eat the larvae, so if you detect heavy woodpecker damage on an ash tree that could be a huge warning signal.

City Forester Yvette Gehrke estimated there are about 30,000 ash trees in West Fargo, with about 60 percent of all the boulevard trees ash. She said the first proactive measure being taken by the City is removing ash trees from the planting list in West Fargo. She and Bennett will be following up their study of the beetle with a trip to Winnipeg the middle of March to secure more information.

"We're hoping against hope that it won't get here, but we can't sit idly by. So we'll learn as much as we can about the threat and share that information as quickly as we can," Bennett told fellow Commissioners.

He and Gehrke agreed an all-out research and education plan will be implemented and ongoing citywide to keep residents informed and updated on what role they can play in detection and eradication.

The Emerald Ash Borer is believed to have its beginnings in China, arriving in the United States in shipped wood packing material. The beetle was discovered in Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002. Gehrke said it is likely it had been there for as long as ten years prior, without anyone knowing it was harming their trees. She described the insect infestations "as more devastating than Dutch Elm disease because it'll attack all kinds of ash trees. It can fly between ¼ and ½ mile and up to six miles. This could wipe out ash on our entire continent." She said the threat is so serious, the USDA intends to store ash seeds to start the species over in the event the Emerald Ash Borer devastates all of the ash trees.

Since its discovery, the Emerald Ash Borer is estimated to have killed more than 20 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana, with most of the devastation in southeastern Michigan; has caused the USDA and other regulatory agencies to enforce quarantines and fines to prevent potentially infested ash trees, logs or firewood from being moved out of areas where an infestation has occurred; and has cost several involved parties tens of millions of dollars.

Gehrke said she conducted a survey last year to see if she could detect any damage from the Emerald Ash Borer in West Fargo, but she couldn't find anything indicating that. Similar studies are being conducted throughout the state. Another tree survey will be conducted this spring in West Fargo, with thorough inspection of all ash trees accompanying it.

More information on this potential problem as it is obtained will be posted on the City of West Fargo's Web site at www.westfargoorg. Any residents who think they might have unusual activity on any of their ash trees, or with questions on any tree problems in general, are encouraged to contact Gehrke at 433-5401.

In other action, the Commission:

-approved first reading of Ordinance No. 796 relating to fees assessed for false alarms reported to the City's Police and Fire Departments. Any alarm site which has more than three false alarms in any consecutive 45 days will be charged a fee for each false alarm over three. The prior ordinance had a six-month time frame. The fine attached to the ordinance is $50 for the first offense, going up in $50 increments at the fifth offense;

-okayed a resolution of necessity and resolution of purchase to begin eminent domain proceedings to secure an easement right of way for property north of Main Avenue between Bush Ag and the commercial property on the west side of Drain 21 for Water and Sewer Improvement District No. 1185;

-granted a five year remodeling exemption to Deb and Malory Olson, who have completed a major remodeling project on their home at 1526 Sheyenne St.;

-approved 100 percent property tax exemptions beyond year two for businesses that have met employment projections, including Bobcat Company, Tri-State Auction, Weisgram Properties, LLP, Red River Fabricating, DMI Industries, and Stockman's Supply.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the West Fargo City Commission will take place at 5:30 p.m., Monday, March 19, in the Commission Chambers at West Fargo City Hall. All meetings are open to the public.