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Invasive species is threatening Indiana trees

Over 27,000 acres of forest land in Indiana are dead or dying ash trees. It is an epidemic caused by something as small as a pencil eraser — the emerald ash borer. And they have been found in our area.

State researchers have found the beetle here in St. Joseph County, but it isn't widespread yet. Researchers don't want it to spread. It can kill thousands of trees a year.

That is what is happening in the Fort Wayne area — acres upon acres of dead and dying trees.

Imagine what that would do to to parks like Potato Creek State Park. So far, park officials there say there have been no sightings of the emerald ash borer. And campers like Jerry Rankin want to keep it that way.

"We do care," says Rankin. "We like to see the trees and nature."

Nearly 4,000 acres of thick, green, forest and scenic views are what keep Potato Creek State Park the second busiest in the state. And, of course, every camper loves a good campfire.

"Everybody sits around the fire, enjoys the conversation. It is relaxing. It is just part of the camping thing," says Rankin.

Also part of the "camping thing" — being responsible with firewood. The ash borer's main mode of transportation is through the movement of firewood. Last year researchers identified over 27,000 acres of forest land with dead or dying ash trees.

While the problem isn't as widespread here as it is in other areas of the state, it is still causing problems. Infected, dead trees have been found on the campus of Notre Dame. And the South Bend Forestry Department says trees with this problem have been found on all ends of the city. There are two trees along Main Street which are marked with an orange dot. That means they are infected with the Emerald Ash Borer and they are going to be cut down.

"It will spread," says Philip Marshall, an entomologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "There are two ways the emerald ash borer spreads: the worst way is by man. They are the ones that are spreading it farther than emerald ash borer itself would move. Because they are moving firewood."

"What we are trying to do with our firewood is not just prevent the movement of emerald ash borer only," Marshall says. "Firewood can move Asian longhorn beetles, which were killing trees in Chicago and now Boston and New York City. Firewood can carry gypsy moth, which you have there in South Bend."

State officials say if you do transport firewood, make sure its been debarked. That is what Rankin does. He is taking every precaution so that he can still have a campfire and enjoy it at his favorite campsite.

The DNR policy is "Buy it with a stamp, bring it debarked, burn it all."  According to DNR's website, that means you can still bring firewood into a state park, reservoir, state forest or state fish & wildlife area from home if you live in Indiana, as long as you have previously removed the bark from it. Insect larvae live in the sapwood under the bark. People from surrounding states cannot bring their own firewood because of the federal EAB quarantines.

Also according to the website, you may also bring firewood into DNR properties if:

- It is kiln-dried scrap lumber.
- It is purchased from a department store, grocery store, gas station, etc. and bears a USDA compliance stamp.
- It is purchased from a local firewood vendor outside the property and has a state compliance stamp with it.
- It is purchased from the property campstore or on-site firewood vendor and has a state compliance stamp.
- Regardless of where you get your firewood, burn it all at the campsite. Do not leave it for the next camper.

In some parts of the state, the DNR is using wasps. According to Marshall they are trying to create an ecological balance. The wasps are a predator of the Emerald Ash Borer — they eat the eggs. Right now, the wasps are not being used in the South Bend area. The department is trying them in areas with the highest concentrations of ash borers. Marshall believes the wasps could help bring balance back to the state and keep ash trees healthy. He estimates the ash borer has already killed up to 100 million trees across the country.

For more information on the ash borer, visit DNR's website:

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