Niagara working to save its ash trees

Tree infusion expert Edward James Blignaut of Kingsford inoculates one of the 11 ash trees in Niagara, Wis., diagnosed with emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that can kill the trees if not treated with an insecticide. A local group raised money to have the trees treated in early September, before the leaves turn color. (Karen Klenke photo)

NIAGARA, Wis. — Eleven of Niagara’s ash trees now face a more promising future after being treated against an invasive insect that has decimated ash trees across much of the country.

In August, the 30-year-old trees were diagnosed with emerald ash borer by local tree expert Edward James Blignaut.

“He noticed the dead branches and immediately knew,” said Karen Klenke, a founding member of the Trees Restoring Environmental Aesthetics committee that planted the trees around town in the early 1990s. In addition to Klenke and TREA co-founder the late Pat Butler, joining the efforts were Steve Zigman, Bob Sauld, Jody Wall and the late Jeff Klenke.

The group focused on beautification projects in Niagara, which included planting the ash trees to make the appearances along the streets more welcoming.

“This (ash) variety of tree was selected as it was fast growing, as well as its hardiness,” Klenke said. “Most of the trees are still thriving three decades later.”

Karen Klenke, left, accepts a donation from the Niagara Lions Club for the fundraiser for treatment to help save the ash trees in Niagara, Wis., that were affected by emerald ash borer. Lions Club members, from left, are Mark Zenko, Steve Zigman and Kerry Grippen. The club was among several groups and individuals supporting the project this fall.

During a visit to Niagara, Blignaut notified Klenke of evidence of EAB and stressed the fact these huge trees — which now reach 40 to 50 feet in height, with a circumference of 70 inches — needed to be treated immediately.

First discovered in the U.S. in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in 2002, EAB now is considered responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states. The invasive Eurasian beetle as an adult lives outside of trees, feeding on green foliage with little damage.

But the larvae, which are grub or worm-like, live underneath the bark, creating tunnels that disrupt the tree’s ability to circulate nutrients and water. Without treatment to ward off the larvae infestation, the damage will become enough to kill the tree.

“I told him, ‘I’m on it,’ and immediately left the store and started the campaign to try to fix them,” Klenke said.

Klenke noted they needed to raise money fast for the costly EAB treatment, as it was important the trees be injected before the leaves change color. Arrangements were made to cover more than half of the trees through the city’s Fritz Rouse Beautification Fund, with the remainder funded with donations.

Klenke stressed how important it was to receive financial support from citizens and groups in Niagara. “The community really stepped up to the plate and helped us,” she said.

The trees were inoculated against EAB in early September. “He seems to think that one treatment will knock it out,” said Klenke, crediting Blignaut for directing this project.

The local area is lucky to have Blignaut’s knowledge, as he also keeps a close eye on other trees in the region as well as the Marquette area, Klenke noted.

Special acknowledgement goes to those who contributed, including the Niagara Lions Club, Niagara Knights of Columbus, Barry and Carole Jolette, Bill and Sue Gay, Beth Molle, Bob and Julie Butler, Karen Klenke, Niagara Beautification Committee, Fritz Rouse and Niagara Development.


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