(Lisle, IL)- The Morton Arboretum played a lead role in creating a network of public and private organizations to develop a readiness plan for addressing the invasion of Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) in the state of Illinois.
Category: Education, Advocacy
In developing the plan, the network researched how to identify the pest, the rules and regulations that cover EAB and what agencies have regulatory responsibilities for invasive species. The group also undertook an extensive outreach and educational campaign to inform legislators, land managers, agencies that oversee the urban forest and the general public about the imminent threat.
As a result of the nine-month planning process, the region was better prepared to identify and contain the pest when it hit the area in 2006.
Founded in 1922, The Morton Arboretum is dedicated to the planting and conservation of trees. It houses collections of more than 4,000 kinds of trees, shrubs and other plants from around the world on 1,700 acres.
The Arboretum offers education programs for all ages, conducts leading research on tree health and tree improvement, breeds and introduces hardy and disease-resistant trees and shrubs for distribution throughout the Midwest and presents year-round nature-related activities.
The Morton Arboretum also reaches out to communities as a resource and facilitator, helping others plant, manage and care for trees. One way of doing this is through its Community Trees Program.
Established in 2002, this program serves 270 metropolitan communities in Illinois.
The program provides the following help to communities:
* Guidance and support for ordinances that balance growth with respect for existing trees
* Community education and encouraging participation in tree care strategies
* Assistance in planning and managing trees for long-term health and sustainability
* Guidance on public education programs emphasizing the roles and value of trees and ideas for community tree celebrations
In 2002, when Edith Makra began her job as Community Tree Advocate overseeing the Community Tree Program, she realized that EAB was a serious problem in nearby Michigan and could pose as great a danger to the regional urban forest as the Asian Long-horned Beetle (ALB) had just a few years earlier.
ALB was first spotted in Chicago in 1998 and the Department of Agriculture employees removed 1,771 trees to stem the spread of that infestation over the next seven years.
Despite the looming threat of EAB, Makra observed a lack of imminent concern and a leadership void among local urban forestry professionals regarding EAB.
Forming a network
Makra reached out to federal, state and local agencies who work with invasive species as well as urban forestry and other environmental groups in the area to warn them about the upcoming threat and to encourage them to work towards developing a plan for managing it.
Makra also surveyed area communities to determine what percentage of the regional urban forest was ash trees, and, therefore, at risk. This data showed that 20 percent of the trees in the area were ash.
In 2004, after reaching out to appropriate groups and gathering background information on the composition of the local urban forest, Makra chaired a readiness planning meeting attended by more than 20 organizations. Participants included representatives from groups such as the University of Illinois Extension Service, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), US Forest Service, urban forestry nonprofits, professional green industry groups, municipalities and councils of governments and other land managers such as such as golf courses and park managers.
The group held a press conference following the meeting to alert the public to the EAB hazard and to talk about plans for addressing it. In retrospect, Makra says the press conference was premature. Although it was significant that this network of groups had formed to deal with the issue, it was not ready to make any public statements on how it would address EAB after just one meeting.
Over the next nine months, the network of groups met to determine what needed to be done and strategies for accomplishing tasks.
Topics addressed included:
* What are the current rules and regulations on invasive species and specifically EAB?
* Who has the authority to regulate infested materials and under what conditions?
What are the consequences for violations and who has enforcement authority?
* Is new legislation needed?
The network’s overall goal was to minimize losses from EAB when it arrived.
The network then discussed how the information on EAB and its management should be disseminated to the rest of the public. The group decided that the best way to spread the information would be for each of the partner organizations to get the word out to their constituents.
Makra worked with network members to draft and secure funding for a brochure describing how to identify EAB and what resources were available to help address the pest. Makra helped coordinate the distribution of more than 500,000 brochures at 17 centers throughout the region.
Morever, Makra spoke to groups throughout the area and posted a PowerPoint presentation of her talk on the Morton Arboretum website, www.mortonarb.org.
In addition, network members briefed U.S. Senator Richard Durbin (Illinois) on the issue. Sen. Durbin was especially responsive, increasing federal agency support for EAB programs and championing legislation to assist communities in addressing invasive species issues. This was a good example of where a nonprofit group could take a lead. Governmental agencies operate under stricter lobbying constraints than nonprofits.
EAB hits Illinois
In June 2006, EAB was first discovered in two communities in Illinois. By August 2008, EAB had invaded 25 communities. Although this planning effort was not able to prevent the pest from reaching and spreading in Illinois, Makra believes that the network’s efforts helped with prevention and with shaping an effective response.
The Morton Arboretum’s Community Trees Program played a pivotal role in developing a network for dealing with EAB in the Illinois. This network has endured and can be used to meet the challenge of other invasive species that threaten the area in the future.
Although no amount of planning could prevent the arrival and spread of EAB in the area, this network helped the urban forest community to quickly identify the pest and to take swift action towards controlling it.
The network helped to get a unified message out to the general public on EAB and how to manage it. The network also was able to assess which agencies had the staff and resources to answer questions and address public concerns. The network distributed brochures and other hand-outs that directed the public to those agencies that could most appropriately respond. Because of the increased coordination and cooperation among agencies, these hand-outs were able to be updated quickly as needed.
Makra said that other states have asked for a template of the readiness plan developed by the network for use in their areas.
“We can’t know for sure, but I hope our work has helped with efforts to control this pest. Without this coordination, we might have lost even more trees,” says Makra.
1. When reaching out to develop a network, try to get buy-in at the highest level possible from participating agencies. Once buy-in is established at the management level, it is appropriate for a hands-on staffer to be the active network member.
2. Once the network agrees upon a readiness plan and educational information, let each organization in the group reach out to its constituencies in its own way.
3. Things change. For example, federal regulations can change as well as methods of monitoring. Although this group had a readiness plan, when it came to implementation not everything went smoothly. Be flexible and realistic in implementing your strategies.
4. Having a network in place for discussing the issue and getting information out to other agencies and the general public is a huge benefit. When change happens, you are able to adapt to it and get the word out to others.
5. Nonprofit groups can play a vital role in addressing invasive species. They do not have the same constraints as many governmental agencies. They can speak more freely with the media, can ask legislative agencies for assistance and can act quickly.
6. Become the expert on invasive species. The more you know about the urban forest, the more you learn about the potential threats. Know the science behind invasive species and get that information out to the public. This will help cement your reputation as the expert and will give your organization the opportunity to be involved in other urban forest policy arenas.
7. Learning about invasive species will help your organization reinforce the need for tree planting. A staggering number of trees are lost every year to invasive species.
8. There is federal money available for dealing with invasive species. Look into what is available in your area. Possible sources of funds include the US Forest Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and state departments of agriculture.
Edith Makra, Community Trees Advocate
The Morton Arboretum
4100 Illinois Route 53
Lisle, IL 60532
Phone: (630) 719-2425
Fax: (630) 719-2433