The destructive emerald ash borer or EAB hasn’t yet been spotted in Nebraska, but the experts say it’s a matter of when, not if.
The insect wipes out ash trees and now officials in Iowa are resorting to a more drastic solution: releasing thousands of wasps which are the EAB’s natural enemy.
Mike Kintner, Iowa’s EAB coordinator, says he’s optimistic the wasps will work. “This has been going on in other states primarily where EAB has been hitting their state harder,” Kintner says. “We’ve gotten to the point in Iowa now where USDA thought it would be appropriate for us to start doing these releases, based on some of the numbers we’re seeing here in our state.”
The EAB is confirmed in at least 31 Iowa counties, though Kintner says it’s likely in more. That list includes Montgomery County, which is about 30 miles from the Nebraska border.
Two types of the stingless, parasitic wasps will be turned loose in Iowa, about the size of a grain of rice or a gnat. He says there’s no threat from the wasps, unless you’re an EAB.
“These parasitic wasps are very small,” Kintner says. “When people hear the word ‘wasp’ they kind of get concerned or alarmed, but they pose no danger to either humans or pets.” The thousands of wasps will be released in Whitham Woods, near Fairfield, over the next few weeks but it may be many months or years before we’ll know if they’re doing their job.
“The program we’re doing is basically a four-year program just for at that site,” Kintner says. “The first couple of years involve releases and then after that, for a couple of years, there’s a lot of monitoring going on. We’re going to definitely expand, not just in the Fairfield area, but at other sites as they come along in Iowa, too, that seem opportune to release them.”
Kintner refers to the wasps as “beneficial” insects but admits they may accidentally kill off bugs -other- than the EAB in Iowa.
“USDA has done a lot of research and testing in the labs on these parasitic wasps,” Kintner says. “There are a couple of native related species that are kind of related to emerald ash borer that they do have a little bit of an impact on, but again, not enough to keep us from releasing them into the wild.”
The wasps are native to Asia and have already been released in 23 other states to battle EAB populations. They’re being provided to Iowa for free through a USDA facility in Michigan. The wasps lay their eggs inside EAB eggs and larvae, killing them before they can develop and in the process, producing more wasps.
The Nebraska Forest Service estimates Nebraska communities will need about $275 million to respond to Emerald Ash Borer. There are about 44-million ash trees in Nebraska, including about one million in public parks and right-of-ways, which will pose a significant risk to people and property if and when they’re attacked by the insects.