MANKATO — Three area cities will be able to begin removing doomed ash trees and planting replacement species using nearly $160,000 in state grants.
The funds were awarded by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources through its Preparing for Emerald Ash Borer in Community Forests grant program.
Mankato city officials expect to remove about 100 ash trees this year with the help of the $65,000 DNR grant, which would represent about 4% of the ash trees on public property in the city. Municipal matching funds of $23,000 and $4,100 in in-kind local contributions also will be used.
The city will be targeting ash trees under overhead utility wires on city boulevards because they tend to already be in poor condition because of excessive trimming. Ash trees infested with emerald ash borer also tend to quickly weaken, dropping even large branches, which could threaten power lines.
New Ulm, which has about 2,600 ash trees on city boulevards, received the largest grant in the region at $88,000. More than 20% of New Ulm’s trees are ash, the species being devastated by the invasive beetle that’s killing the trees by the millions in the eastern half of the United States. Lake Crystal, with a grant of $4,500, was the third area city on the list of 25 across Minnesota sharing the nearly $1 million in funding.
The emerald ash borer, a native of Asia, was first found in Minnesota in 2009 in a St. Paul neighborhood and has been steadily spreading.
While it hasn’t been spotted in Mankato yet, ash borers have been found just to the northwest, east, northeast and southwest. An infested tree was found in New Ulm in September, and confirmed cases of ash borers had been previously discovered in Welcome in Martin County, in Medford near Owatonna and in Prior Lake in Scott County.
Because Mankato is focusing initially on removal of ash trees below utility lines, replacement trees will be smaller varieties that won’t threaten the reliability of electricity, according to the city’s grant application. Once city officials identify specific trees for removal, they intend to send mailings to adjoining property owners. If a property owner objects, the tree may be allowed to remain if it doesn’t pose an immediate hazard.
As Mankato strives to diversify its urban forest, it pledged to the DNR it would not plant two types of replacement trees — maple and spruce, which together make up nearly 40% of the city’s public trees. The 100 ash trees removed through the DNR program represent only a small fraction of the total number of ash trees on public and private property in Mankato, and the City Council will be presented with a draft Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan at an upcoming work session.