DECATUR, Ill. — The emerald ash borer epidemic that hit central Illinois five years ago is still going strong and could spell the end of ash trees in the community of Decatur.

Decatur Park District Horticulture Supervisor Josh McGrath told the (Decatur) Herald & Review that the community will be “pretty much cleaned out of ash trees” in about three years.

City Forester Randy Callison is a bit more optimistic, but not much. He estimated that within the next five years the majority of the ash trees in the city will be infected and that 90 percent of those will die.

According to Callison, about 500 ash trees have been removed from city property since the destructive beetle arrived in the region. The city has a list of 150 ash trees scheduled to be cut down this winter, he said.

The effort to take the trees down is expensive, costing the city an average of about $1,000 a tree. But officials say they really have no choice because when the dead or dying trees have fallen, they’ve damaged utility lines, vehicles and residences.

The beetle was first detected in the Detroit area in 2002 after they likely hitchhiked on the lumber carried by a cargo ship coming to the United States from Asia, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Since then, the beetles have killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America.

In Illinois, the beetle was first detected in Kane County in 2006. It spread so quickly and so widely that in 2015 — after nearly 200 million trees had been killed — the state’s agriculture department announced that it was dropping its clearly ineffective ban on in-state transportation of firewood.

In Decatur, the park district didn’t treat any trees with insecticide both because the beetles did so much damage and because of the cost.

Instead, said McGrath, “We’ve been cutting ash trees down for probably the last five years, and as they are dying we are taking them out.”