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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

Deadly tree pest hits Oak Openings Preserve Metropark

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Lucas County's third infestation of the deadly emerald ash borer was discovered Tuesday. This time it is in one of northwest Ohio's most densely wooded areas: Oak Openings Preserve Metropark.

Officials from several agencies have called for an emergency meeting at the park this morning to decide where to start cutting down trees in hopes of separating the highly invasive threat - one of the greatest ever to North American trees - from its food source.

At least 25 trees could be coming down as early as this afternoon, but the number could rise exponentially depending on the results of a survey that will be done immediately after the meeting, John Jaeger, the metroparks' natural resources director, said.

"We're in an emergency mode at this point," he said.

The infestation was discovered near Reed Road and State Rt. 64, two miles from last year's infestation north of Whitehouse.

Officials are in a rush because the bug - a native of Asia that has killed or is in the process of killing millions of trees in Ohio,

Michigan, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, and Ontario - already has made its annual emergence from host trees in some areas.

Adult winged beetles are believed to look for ash trees within a half-mile of those from which the insects emerge.

But its true range is unknown. Laboratory tests show it has the capability of flying more than six miles under the right circumstances.

"It's so out of balance with nature that anything can happen," said Ken Marchant, a Canadian Food Inspection Agency biologist who heads up Ontario's eradication effort.

The beetle, presumed to have been imported from Asia via wood shipments years ago, was first discovered in southeast Michigan. By the time it was found, it was established.

The state continues to have a 13-county quarantine. Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm recently asked President Bush to declare a state of emergency after learning the cost of eradicating the bug from the state is now at least a staggering $163 million.

More than 20,000 ash trees are being cut down this year in Ohio alone, where the problem is a fraction of what it is in Michigan. Yet Ohio, with 3.8 billion ash trees and an economy that uses the wood to make products such as tool handles, has immense stakes in the issue, officials have said.

Some 3,775 trees were cut down in the Whitehouse area last year after the state's first infestation was discovered in the vicinity of Berkey-Southern and Reed roads. Subsequent discoveries were made in Rossford, Columbus, and Hicksville, Ohio.

Another was made in March on Toledo Express Airport property and some land just south of it.

Contractors hired by the Ohio Department of Agriculture recently finished cutting more than 1,000 ash trees in that area. Now, crews will focus on the latest site.

Rows of trees are cut down to create firebreak-like gaps. Everything, even the stumps, gets grinded into 1-inch chips.

With the Memorial Day weekend coming up soon, Michigan will begin next week a new publicity blitz about the dangers of spreading the problem by moving potentially infested firewood.

Governor Granholm will designate the week as "Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week," said Sara Linsmeier-Wurfel of the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Starting the evening of May 27 and continuing throughout the weekend, firewood checkpoints and information kiosks will be manned by state officials at selected rest areas along interstate highways.

Michigan State Police will be handing out free coffee in Styrofoam cups that have emerald ash borer information stamped on them, Kevin Sayers, officials said.

"If we see any firewood, we'll be confiscating it," Kevin Sayers, Michigan Department of Natural Resources urban forestry coordinator, said. "We're not out hunting down people, but we're trying to make people aware of [how firewood can spread the problem]."

U.S.-Canadian border traffic also will be subject to random checks. Signs continue to be posted warning people they must declare whether they have any firewood in their vehicles "along with guns and drugs and everything else," Mr. Marchant said.

Canadian-bound travelers who violate the firewood ban could be fined as much as $250,000 and imprisoned for as long as two years for breaking Canada's Plant Protection Act. "That's got to be a real flagrant violation, though," Mr. Marchant said.

Chances are the firewood would just be confiscated and put into one of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's so-called "amnesty bins" at the border, he said.

Canada is being especially vigilant about the cross-border checks this year because it recently completed a massive clear-cut across its southwestern peninsula - from Lake St. Clair to Lake Erie. More than 85,000 trees were cut in a huge swath across Ontario's Essex County. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency recently announced plans for compensating affected property owners, something which - for the most part - is not happening in the United States.

Mr. Marchant said 2004 will be a "telling year" for the collective U.S.-Canada effort undertaken to eradicate the bug. "We'll find out it'll either be successful or it'll get out of control," he said.

Mr. Sayers said he believes there are similar measures on the American side of the border to discourage visitors bringing firewood into Michigan from Canada.

Officials familiar with specifics were not available for comment.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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