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Tree-killing ash borer makes the jump to Minnesota

A tree-killing insect that experts fear could wipe out millions of ash trees in the Northland has arrived in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture on Thursday said the emerald ash borer was found in St. Paul near the intersection of state Highway 280 and Interstate 94, the first confirmed sighting in the state. It came after a tree service suspected the insect Wednesday and called state officials.

"We sent digital photos of the larvae to the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] and they confirmed it immediately,'' said Michael Schommer, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.

"I'm standing a couple of blocks from the original finding and we're seeing more trees that appear to be infested. So it's probably at least many trees over a several-block area,'' Schommer continued. "We were hoping it wouldn't jump this far into Minnesota this fast.''

The state will place Hennepin and Ramsey counties under quarantine, meaning no firewood or ash nursery stock or ash timber can be moved out of those counties.

It's not clear how the bugs got there or how large the infested area is, and it's possible the insect has been in the area for three or four years.

While the finding wasn't unexpected, it marks a major hurdle north for the insect that's expected to take a devastating toll on both urban and forest ash trees across the state.

Unlike other forest pests that only stress and kill a few trees, emerald ash borer has been 100 percent fatal to all trees it hits and all varieties of ash.

Experts say little can be done to stop the insect, but that precautions by residents and travelers -- specifically, not moving firewood -- can help slow its spread until a deterrent is found.

"In a lot of ways, this is going to be a lot worse than Dutch elm was because this insect is going to find ash wherever they are, not just cities,'' said Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota entomologist. "We're hopeful we can slow it down to buy some time and get some research on how to stop it.''

The Twin Cities finding comes just a few weeks after the insect was discovered in western Wisconsin.

Officials in both states have asked all residents and tourists not to move any firewood more than a few miles from where it was cut -- and especially not to bring it north when they vacation.

There are 765 million ash trees in Wisconsin forests and 820 million in Minnesota. Experts say all are at risk because the bugs have no natural enemies here.