Illustration by Jessica Turner

This striking insect could wipe out tens of thousands of trees in Dallas. The emerald ash borer, which has a 99.7% mortality rate for ash trees once infestation takes hold, has cost other cities millions of dollars. Chicago, for example, is spending millions of dollars to deal with destruction the bugs caused there. The pernicious beetle has reached Tarrant and Denton counties, and while it hasn’t been detected here yet, the City of Dallas is planning for its arrival. The emerald ash borer is native to northeastern Asia and was first detected in the United States in 2002. Since then, it has reached 35 states. The bug can annihilate virtually 100% of ash trees within five years.

Losing thousands of trees could have a warming effect on our city, already a “heat island,” where an overabundance of paving can cause temperatures to be 10 degrees higher than nearby areas, says Brett Johnson, an urban biologist for the City of Dallas. Besides that, thousands of dead trees would create increased risk of fire and destruction from timber falling onto homes and businesses. 

The Texas Forest Service has recommendations to slow the spread and mitigate damage. The city must inventory all of its ash trees before deciding whether to remove and replace as many ash trees as possible over five years, or take a reactive approach and cut down trees after they die. There’s also the possibility of treating the trees with insecticide. City Council could create a plan of attack by the end of this year.