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Owatonna’s Emily Hagen, right, and Jenna Gleason return as two of the Huskies’ main offensive weapons around the net this season. The program is entering a new era in 2020 under the guidance of new head coach Tai Tolle. (File/SouthernMinn.com)

Residents asked to keep an eye out for invasive beetle signs this winter

It’s fall which means it’s the perfect time to break out the rake, as hundreds of colorful leaves cascade to the ground. It’s also the perfect time to take a closer look at ash trees for signs of the pesky and invasive species —emerald ash borer (EAB).

In March, just prior to the pandemic shutdown, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) confirmed emerald ash borer in Rice County. A Faribault Public Works Department employee had spotted signs of EAB on a tree on private property within the city after participating in a MDA workshop on the topic in Medford.

“We haven’t been able to really do any surveys since it was found, but just an initial drive through the area, I mean it was pretty early on,” Jonathan Osthus of the MDA Plant Protection department said. Osthus deals with EAB statewide and leads community training sessions.

The invasive beetle had been found in Medford in September 2019. Once found in an area, an initial survey with the community is completed and it’s up to residents to report any sign and symptoms they may see, Osthus says. No reports have been made within Owatonna at this time.

“We rely on people recognizing the symptoms and reporting them,” he said.

Due to the pandemic, Osthus had to cancel some in-person workshops, surveys and presentations he had planned to give to various public works departments. Instead MDA has been hosting webinars since April. The department recently hosted an online public meeting in September for Mower (another county with a recent infestation) and Rice county residents.

“It’s definitely not as good as having a nice central location in a city for people to come out and ask questions, but we are continuing to do online stuff,” he said.

Osthus hopes to host outdoor workshops allowing for appropriate social distancing this winter. However, that is contingent upon state restrictions and other COVID-19 precautionary measures. Meanwhile, EABs will spend the winter dormant underneath the ash tree bark, waiting for it to become warm enough in the spring tol continue its development cycle.

“When the leaves drop it’s a lot easier to look for signs of emerald ash borer, so we look for woodpecker damage,” Osthus said. “So that’s when we do most of our surveys, because it’s a lot harder to tell an infested tree by a thinning canopy.”

He explained the specific kind of woodpecker damage to look for, as the larvae are a good food source for the birds. The damage usually starts in the mid to upper canopy of the tree first before working its way down, as this is the location where the infestation begins. The woodpeckers will scratch off some of the outer bark leaving a blonde spot, before drilling a dime size peck hole just deep enough to get to the larvae, Osthus says.

A common symptom of EAB is bark cracks. Tunneling larvae beneath the bark can cause tree bark to split open revealing the galleries. With the help of binoculars, Osthus says the winding s-shape galleries the larvae leave behind are sometimes visible. Throughout the winter an ash tree will accrue woodpecker feeding damage making it easier to identify the infestation prior to spring leaves growing.

“It’s best to look in the winter time and typically in March,” Osthus said.

It can take up to two to three years, before visible signs of an infestation appear. Thus it’s possible that EAB could be festering elsewhere, making it all the more important that residents keep their eyes out for it and report it as soon as possible.

Since discovering the infestation both Rice and Steele counties have been placed on quarantine, meaning any ash material or firewood (anything four foot in length or less) cannot be taken out of the county and into a non quarantine county, according to Osthus. You can move within quarantine countries that are adjacent and touching each other.

An emergency quarantine went into effect just this week for Carver and Sibley counties, counties not immediately adjacent to Rice or Steele counties.

An interactive map of the area where EAB has been confirmed as well as quarantined counties can be found by visiting https://bit.ly/2SCov8n.

“Everything that is kind of on our map is the extent of it, we’ve seen visible symptoms, but that was as of last March,” Osthus said.

More information on the EAB can be found on the Department of Agriculture’s website at mda.state.mn.us/eab or the University of Minnesota Extension website at bit.ly/33FD7Kg.

Local nonprofits receive aid through United Way COVID relief program

As the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to make Steele County’s vulnerable population even more vulnerable, help has arrived in the form of grant checks to the local agencies that provide crucial human services.

At the end of September, 12 nonprofits located within Steele County were awarded funding through the United Way of Steele Count COVID Relief Grants program. The funding was made possible through a $20,000 grant awarded to UWSC through the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation and the Minnesota Council of Foundations for the purpose of assisting local nonprofits with COVID-19 related challenges.

“The number one concern we saw through the application process was that our nonprofits were unable to hold their fundraisers,” said UWSC President Annette Duncan. “Without those events, they didn’t have the funds to operate and provide their services to the community.”

Funding was awarded to Bethel Church, Children’s Remedial Fund of Steele County, Cultural Diversity Network of Owatonna, Exchange Club Center for Family Unity, Healthy Seniors of Steele County, Hospitality House of Owatonna Inc., Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest, Medford School District, NHREG Elementary School District, Owatonna Youth Scholarship, The Blooming Prairie Youth Club, and Trinity Lutheran Church. The 12 recipients represent every application UWSC received for the grant program, with Duncan saying how pleased they were to be able to award funding for every agency seeking assistance.

“In situations that needed more than we could fund, we were directing them to other resources that could and providing technical support with the CARES Act funding the county has for nonprofit support,” Duncan said, noting the $1.1 million of Steele County’s Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars that were allocated to help nonprofits through grants of up to $10,000. “Some of the items these agencies needed we were also able to connect with Shields of Steele for those [personal protective equipment], too.”

The UWSC grants were up to $2,000, though not all 12 applicants requested that full amount.

Duncan said help with marketing was another common theme seen in the applications, as agencies have had to pivot towards a different way of providing their services to accommodate for the pandemic.

One of the more unique requests came from New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Public Schools, where families still had unpaid lunch balances looming over their heads from the spring. Duncan said it was an easy decision for the Emergency Fund Taskforce that assisted in the grant program process to direct dollars toward that cause. The taskforce comprises of UWSC board members and volunteers.

“That’s how the United Way operates – if it wasn’t for our board members and volunteers we wouldn’t be able to do all the work we do,” Duncan said. “Everyone has been really pleased with this outcome and that we were able to help these agencies move their missions forward.”

National Guard members handle the logistics as cars flow through the Emmaus Church parking lot. On Wednesday alone, 473 COVID-19 tests were expected to be administered. Over three days this week, more than 1,250 tests will be administered. (Sam Wilmes/southernminn.com)

Woman sentenced in West Virginia murder of Owatonna boyfriend


A woman who pleaded guilty to killing her boyfriend with the aid of her father and sister, burying him, digging him up and dismembering his remains, and then reburying him, was sentenced to the maximum punishment last week in West Virginia’s McDowell County Circuit Court.

Amanda Michelle Naylor McClure, 31, of Chisago City, Minn., pleaded guilty in July to second-degree murder in the February 2019 death of John Thomas McGuire, 38, of Owatonna. The father of six had last made contact with his family earlier in the month of his death, but he later was declared missing by the mother of his teenaged children in Owatonna. The family was notified on Sept. 24, 2019, that his remains had been located in a shallow grave in West Virginia.

McClure was sentenced on Oct. 1 to 40 years in prison, the maximum sentencing for second-degree murder.

Amanda McClure’s father, Larry Paul McClure Sr., 55, of Pendleton, Ky., was sentenced to life without parole for the crime in August. Her sister, Anna Marie Choudhary, 32, of Boone, N.C., is also facing first-degree murder charges in connection with McGuire’s death.

During his sentencing hearing, Larry McClure testified that McGuire bought a bottle of wine for Valentine’s Day. He then said that McGuire was struck in the head with the wine bottle, tied up, injected with liquid methamphetamine and later strangled.

“A black garbage bag was wrapped around his head by Amanda,” Larry McClure said. “Anna strangled him … I held him.”

McClure said the torture began on Thursday, Feb. 14, and lasted through Saturday.

A criminal complaint obtained by the People’s Press in November 2019 revealed an incestuous relationship between Larry McClure and his daughter Amanda. According to court documents, Larry and Amanda McClure traveled across the state line and were married three weeks after the murder took place.

Following the discovery of McGuire’s body, his oldest child – Justice McGuire of Owatonna – described her father as someone who “truly loved everyone” and “always wanted to make sure everyone had a spot in his life.”

Samantha Perry from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph contributed to this article.