One estimate finds it will cost more than $3-billion to eliminate all ash trees from Iowa’s communities as the infestation of the Emerald Ash Borer marches forward.

The estimate comes from state forester Paul Tauke, who says there are more than three-million ash trees in Iowa’s urban areas, which are all at risk of being devoured by the destructive insects.

“Once you reach the point where ash trees are declining and dying, basically, every ash tree in town will be dead in 5 or 6 years,” Tauke says. “The longer you wait, the longer you stick your head in the sand, the more impact you will have and troubles you’re gonna have when it finally shows up on your doorstep.”

Tauke says communities should start with a tree census and an action plan. He expects the Asian beetle to spread relatively quickly through counties in southeast Iowa that are now under a firewood quarantine.

It’s not unusual for endangered ash trees to comprise 15-20 percent of a town’s total tree inventory. Tauke says Iowa’s cities and towns will face new budget challenges as the Asian beetle widens its attack on ash trees across the state.

“They have absolutely got to be removed because they’re going to present a public safety hazard to the citizens of that community and to homeowners,” Tauke says. “We estimate just the removal costs of those ash trees as they start to decline is going to be 3 to 3.5-billion dollars. Somebody’s going to have to pay for that.”

Burlington alone is looking at removal expenses of $1-million for nearly 900 ash trees. Including rural areas, where cutting them down is not as pressing, the state has up to 60-million ash trees.