Illustration by Hye Jin Chung
They are small, but they are terribly efficient killers. They are emerald ash borers, and slowly but surely, the invasive beetles are destroying nearly all of North America’s ash trees. The green bugs sneaked into the U.S., perhaps in shipping pallets, made quick work of the Great Lakes region, moved down through the Ohio River Valley, and are closing in on us.
Whither, we ask, the nearly 1,000 ash trees living on the Gateway Arch grounds? Will our riverfront park soon be as bald as Joe Garagiola?
Bob Moore, the historian for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial, says that yes, we’re basically screwed, but that’s OK, kind of. “It’s a great concern,” he says. “We’ve had meetings to try to determine what to do, and eventually the decision was made to take all the ash trees out gradually, because the insect will devastate them. They’ll be replaced with a different species of tree.”
Once it begins, an infestation can take a full decade to kill the trees, so there’s still plenty of time to switch them out. “We have pheromone traps in the trees now and no sign of any infestation yet,” Moore says. “When we do it, we’ll replace the trees in sections, so there won’t be a field of stumps covering the Arch grounds.
“These trees are at the end of their life span anyway,” he adds. “The ashes would have had to be taken down and new trees planted within the next years… Some of them have been there almost 50 years. It’s been a good run for them.”
The Arch grounds are scheduled to be reconfigured shortly, so the ash-tree removal “has been incorporated into the CityArchRiver 2015 plans for the Arch grounds, knowing the pests are going to get there eventually,” Moore says.
So yes, one way or another, something on the order of 900 ash trees will be sliced down near the Arch within the next few years—but as Moore noted, their time was coming anyway.
For now, there’s something each of us can do to help. “Don’t move firewood,” Moore says. “The eggs hatch inside the wood, and that’s how it’s spread. So don’t move firewood across county or state lines.”