Black ash trees are an irreplaceable piece of the Potawatomi economy, culture, and way of life. They provide us with material to create baskets, spoons, bowls, and other beautiful and necessary items. They grow on many of our lands, but they are dying faster than they're producing.
The emerald ash borer, an invasive species, was transported to this area, and is now destroying black ash trees. These insects burrow into the tree and feed off of it, slowly killing the tree from the inside out.
"If people would stop moving firewood, a lot of these issues wouldn't occur," said Director of Natural Resources Jennifer Kanine.
The Pokagon Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is responding quickly with a few steps that will save our trees and the art created with them.
First, the DNR began tagging black ash trees mid-January of this year to understand how many total trees are on our properties and how many are alive, partially dead, and fully dead. Then, the DNR can gauge how large of a problem they are tackling.
The DNR continues to treat infected trees with an injection of chemicals into the part of the tree where sap flows, which then spreads all the way out the top and into the leaves. The chemical is distasteful to the emerald ash borer and causes the insect to leave.
This is a costly procedure, which is why the DNR is trying to protect our trees before they get infected with preemptive strikes on the emerald ash borer.
"You want to try to catch it as soon as you can and do something before it spreads and is too costly to control," Kanine said.
Once all our black ash trees are accounted for and spring has come, the DNR will set sticky traps in various areas of the woods to determine the insect density, or the size of the emerald ash population, in each area.
Then the DNR will release parasitoids, provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These insects are foreign, coming from the same places as the emerald ash borer. They will keep the emerald ash population in check by consuming emerald ash borer eggs and babies.
Artists use the wood of black ash trees to make baskets and other items because it is softer than other wood. A black ash tree needs to be 8 to 10 feet in diameter to be large enough to make into a basket. Black ash trees take about 65 years to reach this size.
"We want to make sure (our citizens') quality artisan works are continued," Kanine said.
The DNR is researching ways to better use the black ash trees we do have. This includes soaking partially and fully dead black ash trees in water, which makes their layers soft enough to be peeled and made into baskets. The department is also exploring the option of growing black ash trees in a greenhouse, protected from the emerald ash until the insects are under control.
The DNR is also keeping the tops of trees that basket-makers do not use in cold storage so others may use them for bowls and spoons, utilizing what black ash trees we do have to their fullest.