HURON – It’s been nearly 40 years since an inventory of the city’s urban forest has been done.
But Huron’s tree information will be updated beginning in a few weeks when members of the Huron Area Master Gardeners will count all species, and note their conditions, on the boulevard rights of way, parks and other city property.
It will likely take most of the summer.
“The purpose of this is to get an idea of what all our species are,” said Parks and Recreation Director LaRon Klock.
“Secondly, to figure out where the city is on the condition of the ash trees,” he said.
While the inevitable arrival of the emerald ash borer and its devastating ability to kill trees is an impetus for the inventory, the fact remains that much has changed since the last count was completed in 1980.
Jim Flott of Spokane, Wash., was one of two urban forestry consultants who led a daylong training session with about a dozen master gardeners this week.
The city has purchased tree management computer software so when it has completed an inventory of all of the trees it can make better decisions with its small budget, he said.
“That information is used to manage the trees,” Flott said. “We collect everything about the tree, where it’s growing, anything that’s going on with the tree as far as defects, what kind of maintenance needs to be done to the tree.
“They really have to prioritize things because they don’t have enough money to fix all of the issues associated with trees in the city,” he said.
Nancy Tofflemire is president of the Huron Area Master Gardeners.
She and others in the group will record information on all of the trees growing on public property. The inventory doesn’t include trees located on private property.
But the emerald ash borer – now as close as Turner, Lincoln and Minnehaha counties – is a looming concern.
“If you have a group of ash trees and some of them are in worse condition than others, if the city has to make a determination which ones to place priority on, you take care of the worst ones first as far as removal or whatever,” Tofflemire said.
“If and when the ash borer gets here we will know which trees to concentrate on first and try to get ahead of it,” Klock said.
“Eventually, it’s going to be an education process for homeowners to figure out which trees they might want to treat or save, just like what Sioux Falls is going through right now,” he said.
A Nebraska native, Flott and his company, Community Forestry Consultants, have conducted inventories in many cities in South Dakota. They work around the country as well.
“Just like we use chippers and chainsaws and aerial lift devices, it’s another tool that we use to help us manage the trees better and more efficiently,” he said.
The emerald ash borer was originally from Asia and is believed to have entered the United States on packing materials from China. It was first discovered in this country in the Detroit area in 2002 and has steadily moved west.
“And so Huron is taking a proactive step to try to get out ahead of that before it arrives in Huron,” Flott said. “And it will get here. It’s just a matter of time. It’s not if, it’s when.
“Yes, ash trees are an emphasis in this process, but there are a whole lot of other trees as well that we can’t neglect just because ash is the latest hot-button issue,” he said.
“We got into this mess because of ignoring all the trees,” he said.
South Dakotans of a certain age remember the 1970s when Dutch Elm Disease wiped out American Elm trees. In Huron, before the residential section of Dakota Avenue South saw a road widening project late that decade, it was lined with a tall canopy of American Elms.
“The same thing is going on here,” Flott said. “And what have we learned? We planted ash trees all over the place.”
Inventories done in some South Dakota cities in the time frame of 2012 to 2014 showed ash tree populations as high as 35 and 40 percent, he said.
“So imagine losing 40 percent of not just the public trees, but all ash trees in the city,” he said.
Huron has been working on species diversification. “We haven’t planted an ash tree in eight years,” Klock said.
South Dakota State University’s John Ball, a forest health specialist, has developed an industry guideline in his work on species diversity.
“Fortunately for you, you guys have one of the most world-renowned industry experts right here in your state,” Flott said.
Ball is an excellent resource for more information about all trees in general and ash trees specifically, he said.
The emerald ash borer has a very limited ability to move on its own, but is transported by humans.
“That’s the message that we need to get out there,” Flott said. “It’s being spread by people. Firewood is an example.
“But anybody could transport it. It could be on boats, it could be in the trunk of your car, it could be in your luggage,” he said.
Education is the key if the killing insect is to be stopped.
“You just have to keep repeating the same message over and over and over again,” Flott said.