FAIRFIELD — Robin Pruisner's prey isn't evident at a glance. It's a set of contradictions: big damage from a small bug that's flashy but hard to spot. But she knows it's there and wants to make sure it doesn't go any farther than it already has.
“The emerald ash borer is a metallic green wood-boring beetle. It's about half an inch long,” said Pruisner, the state entemologist. “Even though it's a showy beetle, it's small.”
The emerald ash borer has devastated ash trees since it was first identified near Detroit in 2002. Its discovery in Fairfield marks the third Iowa county in which it has been found. Allamakee County came first in 2010. It showed up in Des Moines County earlier this year.
The Iowa Department of Agriculture says the beetle, which is native to Asia, was found in a residential tree in Fairfield during a survey by a team trained to find the pest. Most infestations in the U.S. start with movement of firewood, nursery plants or sawmill logs, though the beetle is capable of flying short distances.
Tivon Feeley, a forest health specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the Fairfield infestation was found at the tail end of a forest health tour. The tour spotted a tree that showed symptoms of infestation, and a followup check confirmed it.
He suspects a couple of other trees in town also have the beetle already.
“I think it is likely there are at least other trees in Fairfield,” he said.
The discovery has implications for other counties in the area. The release from the state indicates a “multicounty quarantine” will be put into effect in southeast Iowa.
Pruisner is beginning the process of figuring out what form that quarantine will take. She's making calls and talking with people, trying to understand just how wood products move in southeast Iowa. The beetle wouldn't skip a county naturally, so its movement most likely came by hitching a ride from humans.