The autumn leaves are changing to hues of brown, orange and yellow, but there’s one color the city of Beatrice is hoping to avoid: emerald.

While Gage County hasn’t had a confirmed the presence of the emerald ash borer yet, the city of Beatrice will begin removing some non-infested ash trees in November in hopes of staving off the beetle that’s been behind the loss of millions of North American ash trees.

The emerald ash borer was first found in Nebraska in June of 2016 in dramatic fashion. At a press conference, Omaha’s mayor Jean Stothert announced the city’s preventative plans to keep the emerald ash borer out of city limits. City crews peeled back the bark of an elm tree to show how they’d search for the insect when they discovered the telltale winding tunnels left by the borer.

In Beatrice, the city will begin working with residents who live between Sixth and 19th streets and Dorsey and Monroe streets to remove ash trees that may be on or near a city right of way.

Letters were sent out in April to residents in those areas, City Administrator Tobias Tempelmeyer told the Beatrice Board of Public Works at a meeting Wednesday. Those letters followed up by another notice this week that city crews would be working over the winter to take down the ash trees. If residents had an ash tree on their property near a right of way, they would sign a release form and the city would remove it.

“Now's the opportunity to do it,” Tempelmeyer said. “If you don't do it now, we're not coming back. Once we've passed through your area, this opportunity will be gone.”

While the city won’t be going into backyards to remove trees, if an ash tree is close to a city right of way, the city won’t survey the land to make sure it is, Tempelmeyer said, they’ll just assume that it’s close enough.

The removal includes city crews sawing down the ash tree and chipping the brush and loading the log onto a truck to take it to the landfill. The stumps will be left intact, but crews will try to saw as close to the ground as possible said Street Superintendant Jason Moore. Grinding the stumps will be left to the property owner, Tempelmeyer said.

BPW chairman Dave Eskra asked how many trees would be included.

“It can’t be more than 50, can it?” Eskra asked.

While there’s no exact number, Moore said, it’s probably in the hundreds in that area alone, even though the area is a relatively small one. The city will be cleaning up from around Nov. 15 to April 1.

Next year, the area from Monroe to Lincoln will probably have to be split in two, between Sixth and 13th streets and 13th to 19th streets, he said.

“I don't want to say I'm going to take care of this area and then not be able to get it done,” Moore said. “A lot of this is also going to depend on winter weather. If we have a heavy snow, it's going to throw me out of some time.”

Getting ahead of the emerald ash borer is a big deal, especially where cleanup is concerned, Tempelmeyer said. The emerald ash borer has been found in Ashland, just outside of Lancaster County, which means Gage County may be close behind.

Right now, Tempelmeyer said, removing the trees that may ultimately be damaged and die means the city can simply take the logs and brush away for disposal or use as firewood. As soon as the bugs have been discovered in Gage County, the wood has to be chipped on site at the infested tree so as not to help the insect’s spread.

The emerald ash borer could be in Gage County sometime in the next couple of years, Moore said, but removing ash trees could take up to five years.

BPW secretary Bob Moran asked if removing the trees once they were infected was a city responsibility. Tempelmeyer said the city has had a practice in the past of removing sick trees, though ash removal is mostly by choice.

Moore said that the city has received calls from people wanting to know if they’ll remove trees from their yard that aren’t in the designated areas. One man called him to see if they’d take down a tree that sat back 25 feet from the sidewalk, and another woman thought her trees were already infested.

“A lady called me last week and said, 'Hey, my tree, the leaves are turning yellow, it's dying,'” Moore said. “No, that's what happens in the fall. It's fall.”

However you look at it, Eskra said, it’s tough to grasp. It’s hard to fully understand the trees' removal when there’s no devastation in the area so far. On the other hand, he said, there’s a chance to avoid similar devastation caused by pine blight several years ago.

“It's pretty sad, is what it is,” Eskra said.

If residents want to have the city remove a tree, now is their window of opportunity to do so, Tempelmeyer said, stressing the importance of responding to the city’s letter.

“The big thing is, people have got to sign the release form and get it back to us,” he said. “Much like clean city week, if you don't sign up, we're not stopping.”

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