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Emerald ash borer infestation spikes in McHenry County, state

A tag on an ash tree in Lake in the Hills signals the infestation of the emerald ash borer. (Lawerence Synett/Tribune)

A tag on an ash tree in Lake in the Hills signals the infestation of the emerald ash borer. (Lawerence Synett/Tribune)

An infestation of emerald ash borer continues to ravage McHenry County, destroying thousands of ash trees with seemingly no end in sight.

The tree-killer has spread exponentially in Algonquin, Lake in the Hills, Huntley and Crystal Lake, lumping the county into 39 others now quarantined by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“A lot of trees are dying and they need to come down,” said Juliann Heminghous, emerald ash borer outreach coordinator for the state. “These infested communities are going to see huge destructions of their beautiful canopies.”

The metallic-green beetle made its way from Asia to North America is 2002, when a decline of ash trees was discovered outside of Detroit. The borer likely came over on wood-packing materials on cargo ships or airplanes, Heminghous said.

Infested trees were found in Kane County four years later, and the problem has since spread quickly because there is no natural predator to keep the emerald ash borer in check.

“We know it is traveling into areas of the state unwittingly by residents hauling firewood or lumber, or through the railroad system,” Heminghous said.

The boom in Illinois — more than 40 percent of the state now covered by the borer — includes a statewide quarantine by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In the far northwest suburbs, like many other portions of the state, containment efforts are limited to destruction and replacement of infested trees. Tree owners can also inject or soil-drench the trees with insecticides.

Recent inspections in the Village of Lake in the Hills revealed a considerable jump in infested trees compared to last year — 966 up from 34. The village has replaced roughly 400 trees in the last three years, and more than 200 others have been treated with insecticides.

“It’s definitely become a larger problem for us,” said Rob Caldwell, village arborist. “Until this year, we have been able to keep up. Our policy right now is if a tree is still healthy and doesn’t show signs of death, we are leaving it and replacing those that are the worst.”

The Village of Algonquin has 5,022 ash trees on public parkways, 2,024 of which have been destroyed since 2006. Of those trees, 1,507 were confirmed infestations, 392 were pre-harvested to give residents an opportunity to get on the planting list, and 125 died of other causes.

The village budgeted $80,000 this year for removal and replacement efforts.

A total of 216 trees are on the removal list, including a subdivision that was recently wiped out in less than four weeks due to the borer.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Steve Ludwig, park superintendent. “My message to other communities is if you aren’t doing something now to prevent it, you are already getting behind.”

In Huntley, more than 100 ash trees were removed last year. It is anticipated that number will more than double this year. The village has budgeted $20,000 for removal and replacement.

Municipality containment efforts statewide generally consist of ash trees only on public property, leaving the thousands of ash trees on private property up to the homeowners themselves, Heminghous said.

“Homeowners need to start thinking like communities and have diversity in their plantings,” she said. “We are hopeful that for the areas that haven’t been attacked, we can preserve the trees by instilling behavioral changes in the public.”

Warning signs include D-shaped holes the size of a pen, and S-shaped galleries underneath bark once it is peeled away. Vertical bark splits, water sprouts and abnormal grass growing from the bottom of the tree, and loss of leaves could also mean infestation.

Researchers are also breeding an Asian wasp the size of a poppy seed that deposits their eggs into the beetle’s larvae, destroying it. Those wasps are bred in Michigan, and later released in several states, including Illinois, Heminghous said. That process is ongoing.

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