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Ash borer closing in

Paul Otto, manager at Sibley State Park, stacks a bundle of campfire wood Friday that was purchased from a DNR-certified vendor. Because of this week's discovery of the emerald ash borer in St. Paul, state parks are increasing their vigilance in keeping unapproved firewood out of parks. Photo by Carolyn Lange

NEW LONDON -- As people started checking in early Friday morning at Sibley State Park for a weekend of camping, the office staff there received an urgent email about the emerald ash borer that will affect all visitors at every state park.

The notice gave firm instructions for park personnel to question overnight visitors about whether they had firewood with them.

Campers will be asked to voluntarily give up unapproved wood and exchange it for certified bundles of wood that's for sale at the parks.

If they don't, they could risk confiscation and a citation by a conservation officer.

The other option, said Paul Otto, manager at Sibley State Park, is that the person can leave the park. "We won't let them stay if the wood is not certified."

The concern is that the emerald ash borer could be carried into state parks when people bring their own firewood that could be harboring the beetle.

The emerald ash borer can attack and kill ash trees when the larvae tunnels into the wood and feeds on the tree's nutrients, according to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. After 2-3 years, the tree starves to death.

The discovery of an emerald ash borer infestation this week in St. Paul has ratcheted up the vigilance at state parks to prevent the destructive beetle from spreading.

"We will be doing more patrolling and looking for unauthorized wood," said Otto.

Campground hosts will "keep an eye out to see if campers are unloading wood," he said.

Only wood that is purchased from a certified vendor, or kiln-dried lumber, can be brought into the park.

Wood from pallets is not allowed, nor is wood that is harvested locally that doesn't come from a certified vendor, said Otto.

Approved wood is for sale at state parks.

Transporting firewood is one of the key ways the beetle is brought to new areas.

Like most state parks, Sibley has hundreds of ash trees. Many were planted here in the 1980s, said Otto.

Many urban communities, like Willmar, also have a many ash trees that could be at risk of destruction, said Shane Delaney, Willmar Area Forester for the Department of Natural Resources.

Although west central Minnesota doesn't have as many ash trees as other regions in terms of numbers, the percentage of ash trees here is higher.

Some Willmar streets are 90 percent ash trees, Delaney said.

In a worst case scenario there are "several towns that would lose 50 to 75 percent of their trees" if the emerald ash borer hits here, he said.

Ash trees were popular trees to plant along city streets, especially after the Dutch elm disease devastated some areas.

Losing another big population of trees would reduce the shade benefits in urban areas and the wind protection in farm windbreaks, said Delaney.

There would also be emotional losses as people watch trees die that they planted when they were children.

About the only defense is to keep trees watered and watch for signs of the beetle. But Delaney said this beetle "seems to tap some of the healthier trees."

He's been fielding questions from residents and identifying a variety of beetles that have been brought to his office in Willmar.

People can continue to do that until June 30. After that the DNR is closing all three forestry offices (Willmar, New Ulm and Mankato) in the 25-county southwest region.

This area may be served by a forestry office in Little Falls or Sauk Rapids in the future, said Delaney.

There are tentative plans to move the DNR division of wildlife, which currently shares the Willmar office with forestry, to Sibley State Park.