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Published: Monday, 4/11/2005

Tragedy for the trees

You don't have to be a certified tree hugger to feel the pain of destruction being inflicted on area forests by the emerald ash borer. In just two of Lucas County's metroparks, the full extent of the damage wrought by the voracious beetle is unfolding this spring with stunning clarity, and the picture is a brutal one.

At Pearson Metropark on the east side, 2,000 trees - an incredible one of every three - will fall to the chainsaw by the end of the year. Oak Openings Metropark will lose 20,000, although the impact won't be as noticeable because of the park's diverse forestry and sheer size.

Overall, Ohio is expected to lose tens of thousands of the trees, mostly in our area, while the toll in Michigan already is in the millions. The threat is greatest in Ohio, which has 3.8 billion ash trees.

Ironically, many ash trees were planted after the demise of the American elm from Dutch elm disease, which swept this country from the 1930s to the 1960s. The culprit this time is an insect that forestry experts believe made its way to southeast Michigan in a shipping crate from Asia in the 1990s.

Insecticides alone cannot do the job. Getting rid of the borer effectively requires cutting down all healthy ash trees within a half-mile of infested ones. As much as we would wish it, there is no magic potion to protect them.

Trees, of course, are one of nature's wonders that many of us scarcely notice until they've dwindled away.

Perhaps most important to mankind, forests make life as we know it possible by creating oxygen through photosynthesis and absorbing carbon dioxide. They shelter wildlife, they anchor topsoil against erosion, they provide food, medicines, fuel, fiber, and building materials.

As foresters battle the borer's destruction, we can only urge that planting programs be instituted to replace, at least in some measure, what has been lost. This time, though, the aim should be a diversity of tree species to forestall a similar ecological calamity in the future.

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