INVESTIGATORS: Humans still helping emerald ash borer - Los Angeles News | FOX 11 LA KTTV

INVESTIGATORS: Humans still helping emerald ash borer

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WINONA, Minn. (KMSP) -

It's been 5 years since a bug that threatens to wipe out millions of trees was first discovered in Minnesota, but despite the rules that were put in place to stop the spread, the emerald ash borer is still on the move.

Even with a public awareness campaign, state officials say people are still transporting wood to different areas of the state -- and the consequences of those actions could be devastating. When the Fox 9 Investigators went undercover, they found Minnesota's death row for trees in Great River Bluffs State Park.

"There's nothing we can do to save this one," Park Manager Rick Samples said.

Tree after tree is doomed for execution there, and some areas have already been clear-cut. Just last summer, however, the magnificent ash trees in the park appeared to be healthy.

"You can see now, a year later, it's nearly dead," Samples demonstrated.

Most of the leaves are gone. The bark is falling off, and it's all the work of a grim reaper about the size of a fingernail. The tiny emerald ash borer has scarred the face of Great River Bluffs State Park near Winona, Minn. Hundreds of ash trees that lined the entrance road were infested and had to be removed.

Thankfully, however, the invader has not been found in the dense forestland of northern Minnesota, which is where an estimated 1 billion ash trees live -- but it's closing in.

"It has been found in Superior, Wisconsin -- just across the border from Duluth," Mark Abramson, with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, confirmed.

If the assault starts sooner than later up north, humans will be to blame. The bugs can only fly a couple of miles on their own, but they can hitch-hike much longer distances inside pieces of wood.

"Even if you're just driving it down the road 5 miles to have it processed somewhere, along the way, emerald ash borers could be emerging," Abramson warns.

Either by ignorance or by design, people are still breaking the rules put in place to slow the spread of the invasive species. The Fox 9 Investigators found an advertisement on Craigslist for ash firewood. The man selling it lives in Hennepin County, which is under a quarantine. That means ash wood is not allowed to leave the county unless it's been specifically treated; however, the seller told an undercover Fox 9 producer that it is okay to move the wood as long as it stays in Minnesota.

A search of enforcement records show infested wood is still being taken out of the quarantines established in Hennepin, Houston, Ramsey and Winona counties. According to Abramson, that means other parts of the state are open to attack.

"Those insects will still be alive within those pieces of wood, even if they're fairly small," Abramson explained.

The invasive insects will only lay eggs on ash trees. When the larvae hatch, they burrow into the wood and start eating. That chokes off the tree's supply of nutrients. Then, the bugs will hibernate in the wood through the winter before starting the cycle again in spring.

Since 2009, the Department of Agriculture has levied $14,000 in penalties against 11 landscape companies. Many were using infested wood to make mulch, which is allowed by permit as long as it's cut into pieces that are too small for the insects to survive in.

According to state regulators, it's easier to manage the ash borer in urban areas because chemical injections of trees in an option. Unfortunately, there is no known way to treat the millions of ash trees that live in state parks. That's why it's illegal to bring firewood into a state park unless it's been certified by the Department of Agriculture. A label will show what kind of wood it is, where it came from, and specify that it has been heat treated to kill any pests.

Just last year, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stopped more than 850 attempts to bring non-approved firewood into state parks, but it's unclear how many others may have slipped through undetected. For now, the Great River Bluffs Park stands as a grim reminder of what could be on the horizon for the rest of the state unless everyone does their part to slow the march of the emerald ash borer.

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