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Published: Friday, 11/7/2003

Experts convinced Ohio trees in danger

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

New research shows the dreaded emerald ash borer has a range of more than six miles once it emerges from its tree in the spring.

The revelation has stunned experts and made them fear Ohio s valuable ash crop is doomed.

The highly destructive Asian beetle, which already has killed or is in the process of killing five million ash trees in southeast Michigan, previously was thought to have a range of a quarter-mile.

That was true as recently as Oct. 29, when the Ohio Department of Agriculture had teams scouring the vicinity of the Crossroads Centre shopping plaza in Rossford for evidence of the spreading menace. They thought they were being conservative by extending their search out to a two-mile radius.

But tests by Ohio State University entomologist Robin Taylor, performed at a state research station with researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and the Canadian Forest Service, show everyone may have grossly underestimated the bug s capability.

The trio found the insect can roam at least 10 kilometers, which is a little more than six miles.

Mr. Taylor of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio, said the trio s data are strong - possibly even conservative.

“From a practical standpoint, all the trees in Ohio are at risk,” he said. “The question is How long is it going to take? ”

Ohio has 3.8 billion ash trees, covering 850,000 acres of the state s eight million acres of woodlands. Should the insect careen out of control, it could deliver a blow to the state s economy because Ohio is a major manufacturer of tool handles made from ash.

Ash is one of North America s primary commercial hardwoods, used for flooring, cabinets, baseball bats, and other products.

The tree also has been one of the most popular for landscaping because of its tolerance to weather and soil conditions, as well as its resistance to gypsy moths and other pests.

Mr. Taylor said the emerald ash borer “outclasses the gypsy moth and Japanese beetle together in terms of its capabilities.”

He said there is no doubt the borer has the potential of wiping out North American ash trees like the disease that ravaged Dutch elm trees a generation ago.

“I wouldn t make any long-range plans for my ash trees here in Wooster. The situation is that serious,” Mr. Taylor said. “It s a very disturbing prospect, but I don t see a way out.”

Neither does Tom Oberhouse, owner of North Branch Nursery in Pemberville, Ohio. “Honestly, at this point, it s not going to make a big difference. The market s gone,” he lamented.

Bill Stalter, a spokesman for the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association, said the consensus among growers is that ash trees will “probably in 10 to 15 years go the way of the Dutch elm tree.”

Mr. Oberhouse said he has gotten to the point of discouraging buyers from purchasing his ash trees for fear that his customers won t be happy with his business if they wind up with one that gets infested and dies within a few years.

He said he has sold only 200 ash trees this year, instead of the usual 1,000 or 1,200.

“We still have some customers a few hundred miles from here who are convinced it s not going to get that far,” Mr. Oberhouse said.

Some 2,500 to 2,700 of his ash trees may end up being mulched so that the nursery can use the land to grow something else, he said.

Mr. Taylor s research undoubtedly will be discussed at length Wednesday when a special panel of state and federal officials convenes to start discussing strategies for attacking Ohio s problem.

The bug s wider range could considerably drive up costs for trying to eradicate the pest.

Also likely to be discussed will be research from Dan Herms, another Ohio State entomologist. He is studying the possibility of growing a hybrid between North American and Asian ash in hopes it would be more resilient.

But officials are not sure yet just how resilient the Asian variety is to the bug, said Mauricio Espinoza, a spokesman for the state experimental station.

“It s kind of demoralizing to find these new infestations,” Mr. Herms said.

“I fear that this is just a preview of things to come next year and years after,” he said.

Melanie Wilt, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman, said there is no evidence that the emerald ash borer has survived in the Whitehouse area, which had Ohio s first confirmed sighting on Feb. 28.

A swath of trees were toppled in the spring there in an effort to eradicate the bug from the state.

The luck did not last long. The bug emerged this summer and fall in Defiance and Paulding counties as well as the Rossford-Perrysburg area. All were attributed to previous nursery sales or shipments.

The beetle is believed to have been imported accidentally years ago in a wood shipment from Asia to Michigan. Michigan now has a 13-county quarantine.

Other confirmed sightings are in Ontario and the Washington suburb of Prince George s County, Maryland.



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