WATERLOO | The buzzing whir of chainsaws subsided as U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley approached the felled limb of an ash tree in a Waterloo residential area Monday morning.
Waterloo Mayor Buck Clark and City Councilman Tavis Hall accompanied Braley, D-Iowa, on a brief tour of the damage caused by the emerald ash borer infestation.
Braley is hoping to win federal funding for Iowa as it prepares for the removal of ash trees all across the state. Cutting down a single ash tree can cost up to $1,000, potentially amounting to a $3 billion problem statewide, according to information provided by the representative’s staff.
The invasive beetle hasn't been found in North Central Iowa yet, although officials say it's just a matter of time.
A light rain pattered as Braley inspected the heavy branch lying along the curb, its deadened trunk stripped bare of bark by the destructive feeding of borer larvae.
“This is the right time of the year to identify the problem,” Braley said. “When leaves start to appear, it can cover up some of the damage that’s visible right now. That’s why it’s important for cities to get out there and take a look at their ash population and see if the infestation has spread to their counties, into their cities.”
Workers eventually removed the entire tree, an old ash sitting square in the city’s right of way outside Rebecca Robinson’s home at 233 Quincy St. The tree had been there since she first moved into the home as a little girl in 1956. A few weeks ago she asked the city to trim it back in spots where it loomed over the house.
“They were out trimming the other week and that’s when they told me they would have to take the whole tree,” she said.
Emerald ash borer first appeared in the U.S. in Detroit in 2002 and has spread to more than 20 states.
Before its recent discovery in Black Hawk County, borer infestations were found in Allamakee, Des Moines, Jefferson, Cedar and Union counties. It has been found in Bremer, Wapello and Jasper counties this year.
It is the feeding of the ash borer larvae -- the burrowing paths of which appear as serpentine striations -- that eventually kills the ash trees.
In June the grayish worms mature into their adult beetle forms — a little smaller than a penny — and exit through the trees by cutting out “D” shaped holes in the bark.
Once the invasive beetle spreads to an area it cannot be routed out. The only feasible course of action is to begin removing the ash population.
In Waterloo, there are roughly 4,000 ash trees in the public right of way. It’s unknown how many privately owned ash trees there are.
“They’re all over the place,” Clark said.
City work crews are handling the removals of public trees so far. The city forester estimates remediation of the invasive beetle will cost up to $2.4 million.
Braley has introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide funding for Iowa to use against the infesting insects.
Braley said it’s hard to pinpoint an exact dollar amount Iowa needs in federal aid as it’s still unclear how many counties are infested. Whatever the amount, Braley doesn’t think cities like Waterloo should be forced to go it alone.
“As someone who grew up in Iowa when the Dutch elm disease was taking out our elm population, I know that this is going to be a significant challenge for cities to deal with,” he said.