Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) rant: Tree Hugger? Lumberjack? Squeaky Wheel? Citizen?

UPDATE: This afternoon I received an email from IUP. Kudos for follow-up, even though I don’t agree with the decision. The arborist is not recommending tree removal, but the use of chemical insecticides. I don’t agree with this decision, given that insecticides poison more than only the target insect, and some insecticides are suspected of causing colony collapse. AND – I wouldn’t want my children, nieces or nephews around that crap. BUT – it is action, which is a start. Kudos for the action to IUP. Boo to the arborist who encourages insecticide use. Why poison what will inevitably need removed? Prolonging the suffering of the trees, exposing IUP’s beautiful grove to pesticides, risking the spread of the beetles by delaying the inevitable.  Wow, I really have hopped onto this rant now, haven’t I?  Well, I suppose I get to pick my passions and take my turn.

Yesterday, I took action which will, should, destroy a beautiful ash tree in the Oak Grove of IUP. It should also destroy others, if the correct action is taken. I went off on the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) in a Facebook rant, emailed the Indiana Gazette and IUP’s office of the President. Today I’m going off on the government of PA in a follow-up rant. I know this is uncharacteristic, given my penchant for fluffy kittens and happy butterflies, but please bear with me…

I will tell you the story in a moment, but first I need you to know about my ash tree. (This original blog began by telling you a few things about me, to understand why this was such an ordeal, but it turned into a manifesto and I realize that, if that gets published, it will require a hefty drink before hitting “publish” and its own entire post.)

So, my tree…

The tall tree in the background of this picture, with the darker, stretched limbs and orange-gold leaves, is our ash tree at home.

It is older than the house we live in and bigger than most trees for miles around. It was alive when there were only one or two houses within a mile. I have written poems about it, hugged it, talked to it out the kitchen window, and watched the squirrels play and make new families in it each year.

And I would cut it down in a split second.

I would cry with every revolution of that chainsaw. But if the Emerald Ash Borer infested it, I would do the “right thing”.

“The emerald ash borer [EAB] has killed more than 40 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, New York, Tennessee, and Iowa.” – PennState College of Agricultural Studies

My husband texted photos to me yesterday while in the Oak Grove at IUP.

Part of The Oak Grove at IUP. Look at those wonderful trees.
(c) Photo by Melissa Tkach

The Oak Grove is where we went for hand-held walks during our courtship in college. I took my nephew and niece there when they were little. We played games and picnicked and watched the squirrels steal our popcorn.

EAB-Infected ash tree, in the beautiful Oak Grove of IUP

You and I, my friend, we will probably see all the ash trees and many oak trees die off in our lifetime. Yes, it’s that serious. It’s that infectious and rapid. These borers were first discovered in 2002. It has only taken 10 years for those 40 million trees to be polished off, and as the EAB spreads exponentially, the death comes faster and faster.

I think there has been so much talk and discussion of the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer, that people have just let it become old news. So much talk has led to saturation (yes, yes, we get it!) and, I believe, inaction. We have dramatized so much about where it might be, how much it might spread, that the irony is that when we find it, reaction can be too slow.

This is why, when I received those texted photos from my husband yesterday of what looked to be a borer and its marks in an ash tree, my reaction was to go overboard. In a post quite out of character for me (I threw out a “wtf” and some sarcastic snipping on Facebook), I  announced what I believe to be the finding of an Emerald Ash Borer body, its destruction on a tree, and a photo of the tree itself.

EAB below the ash tree in the Oak Grove. Notice the long, cylindrical shape – not an hourglass or a bulbous body. Long, smooth, straight, shiny, emerald.

There is no “cure” and intervention once the ash borers hit a tree. The best thing we can do to protect other ash trees and keep the pests from spreading is to quarantine a large area, larger than where the EAB are currently residing, and take down all target trees in that area, including healthy onesimmediately.

When I saw his photos of that old ash tree in that beautiful grove, the damage by the borer and the smoking gun—a dead borer on the sidewalk—I lit up in a fit of rage. I couldn’t get those photos on Facebook fast enough. “WTF IUP???”

I practically shouted it off the page, tagging IUP, tagging Downtown Indiana, The Indiana Gazette and anyone else I hoped might listen. “How? How could it get to this stage without anyone having seen the signs, looked for the signs? What was their groundskeeper, or their arborist, doing? ” If my husband, who doesn’t work with trees, knows nothing about trees except that like me, he loves and hopes it will be a long while before our ash tree is hit, if he can see the damage and the dead beetle at one glance and know what it is, how could IUP have missed it for so long?

A zoomed photo of EAB damage in “alleged” infected tree at IUP. This is, I believe, a later stage of infection. By this time, there is no prevention, only destruction.

I emailed the President’s Office. I emailed the Indiana Gazette. I emailed Penn State’s notification system. “It’s here! It’s here!” I practically shouted it, my own “British are coming!” complete with stomping hooves and lantern, tromping across the pages of social media and email. “Get up! Get up! The invasion is upon us!” (um, just quoting myself here).

I am a tree-hugger. I’ve hugged ash and oak, walnut and hickory, Osage orange and even poplar (blah, darn poplar!). I’ve hugged a saguaro cactus, a Joshua “tree”, a banyan, a cypress and countless trees in other countries for which I didn’t even have names. It’s just something I like to do. I’ll admit. I’m a flipping weirdo when it comes to trees.

Westminster Abbey, London. Marla hugging a tree outside one of the Abbey’s stained glass windows on the side.

I also hug my logger uncle.

Cutting down trees, especially health ones, is torture. This is not an easy post for me to write, and not an easy thing for me to consider. But, to lighten this weighted post with a bit of Spock from Star Trek: “The Needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.”

Bath, England. Too big to even put my arms around.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the EAB. I am only a concerned homeowner, who wishes more organizations and people were alert enough to limit the spread of the EAB.

But I can read, and so I was grateful to find that places like the Penn State Department of Agriculture have made a lot of public documents related to the EAB available online—available to other universities and to anyone interested in learning more and understanding the actions necessary to take control early.

Joshua Tree Hugging, 2009

So, I wondered, what ARE the actions IUP should be taking? Why haven’t they discovered this or taken care of it before now? What’s wrong with my alma mater?

Well, according to the PA Emerald Ash Borer Action Plan, its obnoxious excess verbiage comes down to identification, notification and removal of ash trees within a designated quarantined area (both infested and healthy) to prevent further spread, and disposal of said trees. But to find that information is a convoluted mess across several documents. And who is really an expert in identification? Would you have recognized what my husband did? I don’t think it’s likely the average person would have noticed it. So what of this action plan IUP should have been following, as a state-run institution?

PA EAB Action Plan

You know, I used to write Preventive Actions and Corrective Actions under an ISO-certified company serving the titanium industry. But this crap put out by the state of Pennsylvania is not an Action Plan. It’s a heap of bureaucratic jargon, legal Cover-Your-Ass-ing and nothing a layperson, groundskeeper or arborist is going to easily follow without either years of experience dealing with it, or having an interpreter or a separate document which is actually more like a “to-do” checklist (a “real” action plan).

This document? This information? This is how our state intends to prevent the spread and eradicate the EAB? Well Lordy help us all, because government is, as usual, about three dips of dipshit: bureaucratic, legal CYA and self-importance.

Uh-oh. I’ve gotten angry again. Just like my Facebook rant, I’m going off now on governmental red tape and due process which keeps the EAB spreading, the public in general ignorance except to “not move firewood” and universities really under-informed on how to pre-treat for the infestation, detect the infestation (without assistance from concerned alumni), or what to do to remove the trees.

What am I really angry about? I think it comes down to “my” trees—I am still crying for my beautiful old ash trees which I know will eventually come down. I’m angry with an idiotic government who allowed this beetle to be introduced to our country. I’m angry with Pennsylvania’s government for creating documents too convoluted to really ensure anything but an avoidance of state government documents, and I’m angry with local governments and institutions for being too ignorant or lazy to prevent or detect EAB early.

And maybe… Maybe, I’m angry with myself because it’s taken me so long to get angry.

I’ve spent so many years being nice and friendly and counting on people in the right positions to “do the right thing” that I allowed myself to close my eyes and pretend the world works the way we want it to, that individuals in the right positions care about the same things I do. Or even people. I received over 40 *Likes* for the posted photo of my adorable grand-niece (she is, amazingly, adorable) and less than a handful for each of my EAB posts, with only a couple comments from concerned individuals. I get it. I really do. I’m the first to put a Thumbs-up for happy posts, happy news and usually avoid negative, griping or narrow-minded right-wing or left-wing posts. Our ‘issues” after all, really are our own, unless we can speak or write or photograph something that will get others involved.

I’m angry because I have been a shitty citizen for too long, as crappy a citizen as governments and shitty leaders. I don’t go to local meetings, because I’ve given up believing they actually listen and take appropriate action. I only vote in Presidential elections, and I don’t call my representatives. I’ve written letters but that’s because it’s easy and I can avoid direct contact with other people; avoid argument; avoid confrontation. I am too busy benefiting from living in a country where freedom also means I can be silent, complacent and value “getting along” more than most things in my life.

But when I saw how close to home that EAB is moving, through a favorite place on my old alma mater, I am aware that what I value, more than the luxury of silence and friendly camaraderie, is my old, beautiful ash tree. I know my tree will be killed by this little green monster. Valuing it more than my complacence, I come awake. I’m angry. I’m disgusted. And I haven’t yet learned how to hone these emotions productively.

So I might take a few institutions to task on Facebook. I might contact local papers and call-out individuals who should be doing more. And it will make me uncomfortable. It will make me feel bad, and “mean” and emotional, in the same way I feel bad for my part in the loss of those trees. But I hope it doesn’t die down again into that slumbering in-activist. Because being mouthy and stubborn and assertive feels alive. Feels “right.” Maybe I really am less “gray” than I thought.

That said, I believe in the power of gratitude as much as the power of complaint. I complained, loudly, a bit obnoxiously, and received swift action (does the squeaky wheel really get the grease?).

Today my husband told me that the groundskeeper told him an arborist is there, and they will have a plan in place asap to take down the tree. He gave Kurt a phone number to follow-up.

Now it’s time to be grateful. Let’s send some Thanks out to IUP for their fast action.

Please THANK Mark Geletka and the President’s Office for taking immediate action to bring an arborist in the next day. Email (THANKS ONLY) Mark at mag@iup.edu – put the phrase “Thanks: EAB” in the subject line, then say a few words in the message about how much you appreciate IUP’s concern and action related to the emerald ash borer. Be sure to reference Traveling Marla’s blog so he knows how you heard about it.

Want to know more about EAB? I’m putting some resources for you at the end of this blog. I know they go on and on about firewood, but I personally think a bigger concern is that none of us really know what we’re looking for and when we see it, we assume someone else of higher rank or importance already knows about it.

Please, don’t assume.

If you can do one amazing thing about the EAB, learn to recognize what they look like

An EAB mating pair, photo by Penn State

And when you see signs

or just suspect, take pictures on your phone, email them to both the proper person and to the newspaper, and follow-up. Complain on Facebook. Share with your friends. Somebody will listen, and you will feel amazing knowing you’ve done one thing, no matter how small, to make a difference.

Thanks everyone, for listening to my little rant and story. You are the best readers a gal could have, and always so supportive and responsive, even if you prefer to send private emails. Thank you.

Love, Marla

Want to know more? Help more?

To learn more, or to become involved in preserving the seeds of our wonderful ash trees before they go the way of the original American Chestnut, please refer to these links:

General information from one of Pennsylvania’s leading agricultural universities:


Help collect seeds of healthy ash and preserve them for when the crisis is over:


Read about the research being done:


4 Comments on “Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) rant: Tree Hugger? Lumberjack? Squeaky Wheel? Citizen?

  1. As someone who’s worked on communications concerning EAB for 10 years, I have to tell you that PA has been as proactive as they come about EAB, but for the most part, no one pays attention to this pest until it’s in the backyard — literally. There’s great information on EAB (from numerous state and federal and university sources) on http://www.emeraldashborer.info. Thanks for keeping it in the public eye!

  2. Glad that this worked out, and that you brought attention to it. Using chemicals might not be ideal, but out of the treatments only Imidacloprid affects honey bees, from what I understand. I wasn’t aware of the scale of the impact of EAB until looking up the information after your post. Given the levels of Ash destruction it’s caused in other parts of the country, I’d say it’s worth the potential impact on bees in the area. Though it’s kind of depressing what your brother said above, that there may be no way to fight it, only to preserve specimens until it passes and start again. I hope that won’t be the case. Parasitic wasps that feed on the EAB have been introduced as one countermeasure, so hopefully some unconventional thinking like that will help. Most of my interest/focus on things back in Pennsylvania has been on the effects of fracking, but I’m glad that I’m more aware of this now. Thanks for finding and passing on the information, and for getting something done about it too!

    Btw, is there a news article up on this yet? I did a very quick search and didn’t find one. Let me know if you can find one. I can get it in the DHS daily publication we produce at work, in the agriculture section.

  3. Wow sis! You go girl!! Funny thing is, there are many of us “out in the sticks” who have been quite proactive about eab for a couple years now. I think the political fight is important, dont get be wrong, but I also think it’s almost as fruitful as banging your head against a tree! (No pun intended). We have had pretty good results from our own grass roots movement, spreading the woed from landowner to landowner and actively culling ALL mature ash trees both infested and not. We believe the only way to possibly save them is to completely eliminate the ash save the youngest, healthiest saplings.(eab seems so far to not target young saplings) Suprisingly some of the best information comes from the ag. dept. from Michigan, where they have lost 99% plus of their ash. eab has for the most part “moved on” to other areas, and they are just now starting to rebuild the ash forests. Gonna be many years! Eab is tough and travels far and fast. Controling adults is almost impossible! We believe the only way to arrest this blight is to remove the larval food source!! Unfortunately this means every ash over the age of 3 – 5 years. Some promising success has been had in “protecting” some slightly older “pet” trees using a root saturation treatment, but timing is critical! Treatment must start in the spring when upward sapflow is at its peak, after that simply not enough of the larvae killing solution is taken up into the tree to do the job. For now, cut, split and burn!
    Look on the bright side sis; those delicious smores and hotdogs we enjoyed last weekend were most likely seasoned with the slow-roast, sweet aroma of toasted eab larva.
    funny thing about all this…all this time I thought YOU were the one with your head in the sand! You go little sis!! With you 110%!!!

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