Lexington has been invaded by a small green insect that threatens to wipe out the city's ash trees. The emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle that somehow found its way to ash trees near Detroit seven years ago, has killed tens of millions of trees in 11 states and two Canadian provinces. It was found in Kentucky this spring.
Here are some questions and answers about what the green bug means to you.
Question: I've seen trees around town with a lime green ribbon tied around them. Does that have something to do with this?
Answer: Bingo! Volunteers organized by the Lexington Tree Board have been marking street trees as part of an effort to make people aware of how many ash trees are out there. They only mark street trees; they don't go into your yard. But if you have a street tree that is marked, you should look to see if you have similar trees in other places.
The volunteers have marked nearly 2,000 trees, with about half the city to go.
A survey a few years ago found 5,000 ash trees planted along streets, about 9 percent of the citywide total.
There are a lot of ash trees in some neighborhoods, none in others. Some of the oldest ashes in town were planted along Lakewood Drive and nearby streets 70 or 80 years ago. The Rabbit Run neighborhood is almost all ash trees.
Heaviest concentration so far: The Gardens of Hartland and Woodfield area.
Q: I've checked my yard, and I don't have any ash trees. That means I don't have a problem, right?
A: It depends of on your definition of "problem." Do you visit city parks? Plenty of ash trees there.
White ashes were planted next to baseball bleachers at Shillito Park 20 years ago. If you like sitting in the shade at games, you might care about those trees. Castlewood Park has more than a dozen blue ash trees that have survived storms, droughts and fires for two centuries or more.
Then there's the problem of branches falling out of dying trees as you drive down the street, or crashing into power lines and knocking out your electricity.
Mike Canfield, a forester for Kentucky Utilities, estimates there are as many ash trees under power lines in back yards as along streets. That will create "an acute problem," he said, when they die.
You can also expect to see dead trees along New Circle Road, where ashes have come up on their own, and along Man o' War, where they were planted with tax dollars.
Q: I came home and found one of those ribbons around a tree between the sidewalk and curb in front of my house. Does that mean the city is going to do something about it?
A: Nope. That little strip of land is part of the right-of-way for your street, but the tree is your responsibility.
Q: I don't know anything about trees. What am I supposed to do?
A: You have a couple of choices: You can treat the tree with an insecticide, or watch it die.
In Michigan, where the infestation started, the only ash trees left are those that are being treated. That's likely to become the situation here in the next five to 10 years.
Start by evaluating your tree. Is it healthy? Treatments have to be repeated every one to three years, so you will be making a long-term commitment if you choose to treat.
Weigh that against the alternative: Taking down and replacing a dead tree can cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Treatments to keep the ash borer away are improving, but there's no guarantee a permanent solution will be found.
If your tree is larger than 15 inches in diameter, you should hire someone to treat it. Expect to pay about $10 per inch of the trunk's diameter, says Lee Townsend, an extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky.
On smaller trees, you can buy an insecticide at Home Depot, Lowe's or Wal-mart. Look for something that says it's for 12-month tree and shrub insect control. The do-it-yourself method should cost about 80 cents per inch of circumference, Townsend said.
Q: What happens if I let my street tree die?
A: You are responsible for cutting it down and replacing it, both of which require a free permit from the city. If you ignore a dead street tree and it presents a hazard to passersby, you can be cited.
Q: How do I know if my tree is infested?
A: There are several signs, including a thinning of the canopy, D-shaped holes in the bark made by the insect, serpentine tunnels under the bark, sprouts coming out at the base of the tree, increased woodpecker activity or vertical splits in the bark.
Q: Why won't the city treat my tree? Can't they do it more cheaply?
A: Tim Queary, Lexington's urban forester, says the city can treat trees more cheaply than individual homeowners because it already has people on the payroll who can apply the pesticides. But with the economy in a recession, he said, there isn't enough money for the city to treat all the trees in parks and other public places.
Some neighborhood associations, such as the one at Hartland Estates, are planning to treat their street trees. The association's Carolyn Plumlee says the hope is that residents will sign on to have other ashes in their yard treated at the same time.
And Queary hopes some neighborhood associations step up to treat trees in nearby parks and public areas to take pressure off the city.
Q: Will all the trees on public land be treated?
A: Some downtown street trees have been treated; there's a debate about what else to treat. Is a 200-year-old blue ash that is sitting in the middle of a field more valuable than, say, a healthy young ash could be there for future generations to enjoy?
Q: How widespread is this problem in Kentucky?
A: Infested trees have been found in seven counties. State officials have placed a quarantine over a 20-county area in an attempt to slow the insect's spread. By itself, the insect will spread from half a mile to 2 miles a year.
Unfortunately, it has help from humans. As ash trees die, they get cut into firewood, then someone goes hunting or camping and leaves some of the infested wood behind.
The main component of the quarantine is a ban on moving firewood. If you live in Fayette County and go camping in the Daniel Boone National Forest, for example, don't take firewood with you. Obtain wood for fires locally.
Q: What about the Daniel Boone National Forest? Is it going to get hit by this bug?
A: Probably. The state Division of Forestry estimates there are 131 million white ashes and 92 million green ashes in Kentucky, but ash trees make up a relatively small percentage of all trees in the state. Because ash trees make nice shade trees and are often planted along streets, they are more of an urban problem.
Q: Are ash trees good for anything?
A: Lots of things. If fact, there's a good chance you've held a piece of ash wood in your hands. It often is used for handles for shovels, rakes and other tools. Louisville Slugger baseball bats are made from white ashes that grow along the Pennsylvania-New York border. The ash borer has been found in southern Pennsylvania. Bat-maker Hillerich & Bradsby is experimenting with other woods, in anticipation that ashes could someday become an endangered species.