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Millions of dollars needed to stem emerald ash borer's spread, experts say

Recent state investments have been critical in curbing the spread of emerald ash borer, but tens of millions of dollars are still needed to protect Minnesota's ash trees, lawmakers learned Friday.

Advocates, researchers and department administrators detailed the needs during a joint hearing of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy and the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy committees.

They recommend allocating at least $8.5 million annually to help cities and towns develop management plans and track, treat, remove and replace trees infected with the invasive beetle.

They also urged lawmakers to continue funding research of northern Minnesota's ash populations and said more could be done to reuse the tens of thousands of trees infected each year across the state.

"One thing we know for sure is that time is running out," said Karen Zumach, president of the Minnesota Shade Tree Advisory Committee.

Emerald ash borer, a small, green beetle native to east Asia, has become endemic in the eastern U.S. since it was first detected in the country in 2002.

The beetle kills almost all ash trees it infests, with its larvae disrupting the movement of water and nutrients through trees by feeding on their inner bark.

In Minnesota, which has an estimated 1 billion ash trees, emerald ash borer is in 26 counties, primarily in southeastern Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

Experts worry about the beetle reaching the ash-dominated forests of northern Minnesota, where it could have dramatic environmental consequences if left unchecked.

In recent years, lawmakers have dedicated $2 million in General Fund, bonding and Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund dollars to emerald ash borer management. Another $3.5 million would be allocated as part of the environment trust fund bill approved last month by the environment committee.

Amy Kay Kerber, forestry legislative affairs and outreach supervisor at the Department of Natural Resources, said cities and towns that received 2019 General Fund dollars need more time to finish their work.

The DNR has begun soliciting requests for $1 million in bonding money it received in October 2020.

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