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     Emerald ash borer: A metallic green beetle native to eastern Asia that infests and kills ash trees and can spread through the transport of firewood.  – The Free Dictionary

Over many years in newspapering, I’ve talked to scores of persons in state government.

None was more enjoyable, or informative, than John Ball of South Dakota State University.

If a journalist can find an expert who is willing to speak on the record, exhibits patience with an uninformed reporter, and injects a bit of humor in his observations, he’d be wise to keep him in his Rolodex. (For the younger readers, a Rolodex was a box of index cards of contacts with telephone numbers.)

Fourteen years ago, when I was writing a weekly column for The Daily Republic in Mitchell, I called a local tree doctor in a bit of a panic. I had noticed piles of tiny wood particles at the base of a large silver maple in our backyard. It was (and it still stands today) a grand tree, tall with a large canopy, providing shade for much of the yard. The tree doctor injected a pesticide at the base and after a few days the sawdust stopped.

I called John Ball, forestry specialist, to find out more about the threat to South Dakota shade trees, and learned that a serious threat to our state was the emerald ash borer. Then, the plague was in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana and moving west. Michigan had lost 6 million ash trees in five years. I looked around our yard in Mitchell and counted four ash trees, one of which dominated the front yard. It wasn’t as tall as the silver maple, but its breadth was impressive, rivaled only by the ancient box elder which faced it from the east.

Ball at that time said the ash borer was on its way and I watched him on television the other night, explaining to a reporter why and how the pests were introduced (from China) and how it is transported through infected nursery stock.

“You can spray or inject an individual tree, but it’s impossible to protect entire neighborhoods,” he told me in 2004.

Given the devastation caused by the ash borer, could more have been done to prevent the loss of millions of ash trees?

“It’s something we’ve spoken about for decades,” he said. “When you look at the amount of funding for insects on trees, it is miniscule compared to that spent on crops and livestock. On a national level, we’re under-funding research on trees,” he said.

“We are going to pay for that,” Ball said then.

We are paying for it today.

Sept. 12, 2018