Nebraska faces big bill as pests kill thousands of ash trees

Nebraska faces big bill as pests kill thousands of ash trees

October 6, 2019
Associated Press

Nebraskans will need to spend nearly $1 billion over the next few decades to remove ash trees killed by an invasive pest, but local governments probably won't be able to afford the cost and it's not clear how much help they'll get from the state.

Lawmakers renewed their search last week for ways to fix the damage caused by the emerald ash borer, a major threat to the state's ash trees. State officials have already confirmed the insect's presence in Nebraska and acknowledged they have no way to stop it.

Sen. John Stinner, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, has introduced a legislative study to seek solutions, but he said he doesn't know whether he'll propose additional state funding in the upcoming session.

Lawmakers have faced several years of tight budgets, and many senators are focusing on lowering property taxes and other spending priorities. Stinner, of Gering, said it's too early to tell whether senators will act in next year's session.

"You almost have to wait for it to become a crisis," he said after a hearing on the issue Friday.

The emerald ash borer has also killed trees in neighboring Iowa, Missouri, Kansas and Colorado. The insects are native to Asia and kill ash by feeding on inner bark and blocking trees' ability to obtain water and nutrients. The insects were first spotted in the U.S. in 2002, when they showed up in the Detroit area. Infected trees typically die within five years.

Nebraska communities will end up spending an estimated $270 million to remove, dispose and replant all of the public ash trees killed by the disease, said Nebraska State Forester John Erixson. Replacing trees on private land will cost homeowners an additional $686 million, bringing the total expense to nearly $1 billion.

Erixson said the Nebraska Forest Service helps distribute grants to communities from the federal government and private foundations, but those sources offer limited money and impose restrictions on how it's used. Some grants only allow for replanting new trees but not removing old ones.

"These grants only scratch the surface," Erixson said.

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