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Published: Sunday, 4/10/2005

Ashes to ashes to ashes: Emerald ash borer killing Pearson Metropark

Take a walk today in the lovely woods of Pearson Metropark and try not to get preoccupied with the rings of bright pink paint on so many trees.

Yes, try not to dwell on the rings. They are rings of tears.

Just enjoy wending your way through this beautiful remnant of the Great Black Swamp. Take a picture. Burn a memory into the wood of your mind's eye. Remember the woods the way they are today.

Pearson Metropark has 2,000 ash trees slated to be cut down and destroyed because of the infestation by the emerald ash borer. Pearson Metropark has 2,000 ash trees slated to be cut down and destroyed because of the infestation by the emerald ash borer.
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It will be better that way. It will be like remembering a terminally ill loved one when he or she was most alive and vibrant and happy.

For tomorrow - that is, sometime very soon - those woods will be torn up by a logging operation. Metroparks managers pledge to do their very best in overseeing the cut, to be as environmentally sensitive as possible. But it still is going to be ugly. So brace yourself.

About 2,000 trees, almost a third of the Pearson woodlot, are ash and are marked for death by the telltale pink rings. Some of the trees are 100 years old, 80 feet tall.

All eventually will be cut down, and many will be ground into chips and burned in an incinerator. Some, the larger ones, may be skinned of bark and the outer inch or so of sapwood, then perhaps milled into salvage lumber.

Three words explain this horror: emerald ash borer.

It likely is this generation's most insidious, potentially destructive forestry threat, a pest for which there is no magic bullet.

The genesis of the borer's infestation, begun in southeast Michigan a decade ago, now is well known and much publicized.

But the Toledo area has become the front line in a near-frantic battle to keep it from spreading throughout North America.

At peril in Ohio alone, home to a substantial percentage of the continent's ash family, are some 3.8 billion trees.

Some 20,000 ash also are scheduled for destruction at Oak Openings Preserve Metropark in southwest Lucas County in the anti-borer war.

But Oak Openings is not as visible as the 620-acre Pearson, the only East Side metropark. It lies hard by the ever bustling State Rt. 2, mainline to Maumee Bay State Park, Cedar Point, and a multitude of other Lake Erie shoreline tourism and recreational destinations.

Thousands of people not only go to Pearson, they go by it. And the cutting will evoke shock and awe among many of them.

"I've had tears myself," said a dejected but resigned John Jaeger, the soft-spoken, kindly, natural resources manager for Toledo Area Metroparks.

"It is awful. Our hands are tied."

Indeed. The working protocol to combat the borer that was put into play by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture - which are mandated by law to combat such invasive pests - is to cut down and destroy infested trees and all other ash trees within a half-mile.

It is a repulsive scenario for nature lovers and conservationists to contemplate.

But those in the trenches in this war on an eco-terror face some complicated alternatives.

The heart wants to say, "let nature take its course. Let the trees die with dignity." See whether the invasion doesn't just slow on its own, whether nature, in rebalancing and readjusting, can find a solution that escapes mere human minds.

But the head sees the reality, the speed at which the borer invasion has spread.

It is a blitzkrieg, sometimes aided and abetted by careless, selfish, or unthinking humans who have helped transport the borer to new sites, hopscotching the drawn battle lines.

By not acting decisively here and now, at places like Pearson, forestry officialdom eventually could be pilloried for having stood by and done nothing. So they act. Aggressively, decisively.

And the rest of us hurt.

The best consolation in the long run, once the grieving is over at losing some of this generation's trees, is that nature is always changing and adapting.

Other trees - perhaps even ashes with a natural resistance to emerald ash borers - someday will replace some of the lost ashes at Pearson and elsewhere.

We have to be patient, like nature, even as we mourn the losses. And each of us can plant a tree.

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A sportsmen's rally to protest certain provisions in the proposed Ohio budget bill has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday in the Rotunda in the Statehouse in Columbus.

Sponsored by the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, an outdoors lobby, the rally revolves around what has become a biennial political issue known as central support of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The USSA contends that the Ohio Division of Wildlife - an arm of the ODNR but almost wholly funded by hunting, fishing, and trapping license-fees - will have to give $3.6 million in support of the ODNR in the next two years while support from other DNR divisions will come from general revenues.

The net effect, the Alliance contends, is double taxation of sportsmen.

To leave a message for your state representative, call toll-free 1-800-282-0253. To find your state legislator, use the Legislative Action Center at the USSA Web site, www.ussportsmen.org. To contact USSA, visit the organization's Web site or call 614-888-4868.



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