Updated: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012 | Posted: 12:00 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 2012

Infected ash trees cost taxpayers twice


Better treat soon to combat emerald ash borer photo
Emerald Ash Borer.

By Doug Page

Staff Writer


A “wild fire” of destruction is racing through the urban forests of Ohio, forcing localities to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove ten of thousands of ash trees infested with the emerald ash borer.

It’s a double-hit to taxpayers: first, tax money normally used to run local government is being diverted to remove infested trees from public property; second, homeowners will be paying out of their pockets for private contractors to remove ash from their private property.

“Every community, every homeowner should be thinking about the effect the emerald ash borer is having,” said Wendi Van Buren, state Department of Natural Resources urban forester for Southwest Ohio.

Brian Shuler, a certified arborist with Dayton-based Tree Care Inc., said the company has seen an increase in calls for the removal of ash.

For the homeowner, the options are limited. “It’s getting to the point where treating (an ash with insecticide) is almost too late,” Shuler said. Homeowners “should of been treating earlier.”

Tree Care currently is working in Toledo — one of the original hot spots of the infestation — in removing the remaining thousands of dead and dying ash.

A small fire

“Just as a wild fire often spreads by sparks from the main fire, so the emerald ash borer is spreading through the state,” said Joe Boggs, Hamilton County Ohio State University extension educator and assistant professor of entomology at OSU. “Once these little, crackling fires are established the population starts building until it explodes into full conflagration.”

The first ember in the Miami Valley ignited in Springboro around 2006, four years after the non-native invasive insect was discovered in the Toledo-Detroit area.

“It started in our forested areas,” said Vince Murphy, Springboro assistant public works director. The number of ash trees removed by the city “is beyond count”, he said.

“We don’t even track the man-hours of labor any more. We tried to stay on top of it,” Murphy said. He estimated that 15 year ago 50 percent of the city’s tree canopy was ash. The boom in housing in the early 2000s, however, removed a lot of the ash from private property, he said.

The city is spending between $10,000 to $15,000 annually to remove and replace ash from city property and right-of-ways, according to Murphy. The Heatherwood Golf Course recently took down 110 infested trees.

Homeowner costs

Tree Care’s Schuler said treating a mature ash could cost hundreds of dollars annually. “Homeowners are going to have to weigh the economics.” He warned a homeowner should not wait until an ash dies to remove it.

“When it is living, ash is an incredibly strong wood. When it dies, it quickly becomes brittle” and difficult to remove, Shuler said. Removing a living ash can run in the hundreds of dollars, depending on the size and location, he said. A dead ash, again depending on size and location, conceivably can runs in the thousands of dollars.

Springboro is using a injectable insecticide on a few “prominent” ash.

“I don’t believe you save anything, but it will prolong the life of a few,” he said of the treatments. “But on the grand scale of all the ash we have, it’s just not feasible” to use the injection treatment.

OSU’s Boggs and others recommend homeowners, in particular, consult with certified arborists, city arborists, the state Department of Agriculture or extension educators before making any decisions.

“Millions of trees need to come down,” Shuler said. “People need to be careful they are not taken advantage of.”

Locality costs

The bigger the city, the bigger the problem.

Dayton spent $40,000 this year to remove and replace 200 diseased ash, half of them in the downtown area.

“This was just a small scale operation,” Fred Stovall, public works director, told the city commissioners at a recent budget presentation.

Public works plans next year to determine how much it would cost for a thorough inventory of trees on city property. “We need to find out what we can afford then we can have a serious discussion” about the infestation, Stovall told the commissioners.

As part of the presentation, Stovall requested the $41,000 purchase of a brush chipper in anticipation of the increasing removal of ash.

Jim Bringer, street maintenance manager, estimated the city may have 40,000 to 50,000 ash on city property.

South Dorset Avenue in Troy is a textbook example of the emerald ash borer’s effect. The canopy of ash that once shaded homes and the street is gone, replaced by stick trees of maple and oak.

“We take them out as they die,” city arborist Jeremy Drake said. The city drew up an emerald ash borer plan in 2008 when the pest first appeared. Drake estimated 12 percent of the trees on city property are ash. “We started on an inventory, but never completed it … There was wide-spread mortality quickly,” he said.

Since 2011, the city has taken down and replaced 130 ash. Drake said another 80 street tress would come down over the winter.

Mike Fleener, Kettering parks superintendent, estimated the city has spent $100,000 removing and replacing ash on public property.

“We’re treating a few trees — about 200 — that are our larger ash trees,” he said. Meanwhile, the city is moving forward with removing the remaining 2,000 ash on public property. “We will continue so that we are removing them on our time schedule … and not on the bugs’ schedule.”

In Beavercreek, Mike Thonnerieux worries about the pests impact on the city.

“We don’t have the dollars to replant, that’s our bigger concern,” the city’s park superintendent said. He had no estimate on what it would cost to replace the dead and dying ash throughout the city’s parks and right-of-ways.

“You wonder how this will impact the city as a whole,” he said.

Changing forest

The Ohio forest — rural and urban — will be changed as millions of ash die, all agree.

For urban forester Van Buren, there is a small silver lining.

“It’s an opportunity to add diversity to the urban canopy. It may be the only time we can change the dynamics of the urban forest,” she said, recommending the ash be replaced by maples, oaks, honey locust, tulip, ginko, coffee trees — all that can grow into large shade trees.

A diverse urban forest, to some extent, can protect a city’s canopy “from whatever comes next,” OSU’s Boggs said.

For more information on the emerald ash borer:





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