DES MOINES — It will take time, planning and community involvement to deal with the emerald ash borer threat, forestry experts say.
It also will take funding, Shannon Ramsey, executive director of Trees Forever, told lawmakers Wednesday.
“Investing now in good management and assistance could pay off in the future,” said Ramsey, who along with volunteers from the Coalition for Iowa’s Woodlands & Trees lobbied lawmakers on the danger posed by the emerald ash borer, which has been detected in eastern Iowa counties.
The small metallic green insect, native to Asia, could cost Iowa communities more than $2 billion, Ramsey warned.
Marion-based Trees Forever is recommending a $1.9 million appropriation to fight the borer and for overall forestry health. Last year, legislators appropriated $200,000 and the year before included $100,000. The proposed budget now has $500,000.
Sen. Dennis Black, D-Grinnell, himself a forester, is seeking $1 million.
“That may seem obscene to some, but Wisconsin put $3 million in its budget,” he said.
“I understand what an insect like this can do,” Black said. “So we need people to spread the word to cities and individuals on how to detect emerald ash borer and to help them take action.”
Lawmakers, too, need to be educated, Ramsey said.
“We have to explain the magnitude of the threat and the cost to communities,” she said. In Cedar Rapids, for example, it’s estimated shade trees provide $1.5 million in energy savings.
“We have a tendency to take trees for granted,” Ramsey said. “We need active planting and care programs to have a healthy canopy.”
State funding, she said, could help provide seed grants for removal of ash trees and replanting and technical assistance because few Iowa cities have foresters.
Trees Forever, which is observing its 25th year, has been helping communities plan for and respond to the emerald ash borer by encouraging individuals and communities to plant a diverse mix of trees. Greater tree diversity decreases the risk that future tree pests and diseases can devastate ash trees like Dutch elm disease did a generation ago.