North America's No. 1 threat to ash trees is now inside Toledo's city limits.
Ohio Department of Agriculture officials confirmed yesterday that the metallic-green, thumbnail-sized emerald ash borer has infested three trees on Oatis Street near North Cove Boulevard and Toledo Hospital.
The discovery could be an isolated infestation - or it could be the epicenter of a larger problem perhaps affecting hundreds of trees in nearby Ottawa and Jermain parks and beyond.
Agriculture officials will soon have crews survey a 1.5-mile radius around the discovery site to determine the potential impact, including how many trees will have to be cut down before the beetle emerges again in mid-May.
Protocol response calls for the removal of all ash trees within a half-mile of infested sites. Some 10,000 trees in North Baltimore were recently earmarked for destruction beginning on or around Oct. 4 following the discovery of an infestation in that southern Wood County community.
State agriculture spokesman Melissa Brewer said there are about 140 ash trees just between city sidewalks and curbs that are within a half-mile of the Oatis site in Toledo. But she emphasized that figure doesn't include nearby trees in Ottawa and Jermain parks or historic Woodlawn Cemetery that could be in danger.
"It's really too early to tell what kind of devastation, if any, we're going to have," said Kattie Bond, the city's director of parks, recreation, and forestry.
The infestation site near Toledo Hospital was discovered after a city forester reported suspicious-looking trees last week to the Ohio State University extension office at Toledo Botanical Gardens, which has been assisting state and federal officials with their fieldwork.
"He was out looking for stressed ash trees and came across these on Oatis Street," said Amy Stone, OSU cooperative extension agent.
Regardless of what the Toledo survey finds, expect hundreds - if not thousands - of trees to be removed from the Toledo metropolitan area before next spring in what is becoming a regional all-out war against the nuisance beetle from Asia.
It's a pest that forestry experts have repeatedly said has the potential of being every bit as destructive as Dutch Elm disease, the plague that wiped out most of the nation's shady elm trees a generation ago. Ash trees, ironically, became a popular replacement for elms because of their shade, landscaping beauty, and adaptability to various soils.
Ohio has some 3.8 billion of them. Ash is widely used by the state's tool-handle manufacturers. It is also found in everything from baseball bats to furniture and flooring.
In July, the University of Toledo's Stranahan Arboretum in Sylvania Township was identified as an infestation point just days after a beetle that had been caught in a trap there was confirmed by U.S. Department of Agriculture tests as an emerald ash borer. A UT official has said the arboretum is likely to lose 30 to 40 trees.
The bigger issue might be what surveys reveal at two other heavily wooded sites: Wildwood Preserve Metropark and Camp Miakonda. Both are next to the arboretum.
Hundreds of other trees have either been cut or marked for cutting in the Oak Openings Preserve Metropark, in the Maumee State Forest, on land just south of Toledo Express Airport, on public-private lands in eastern Fulton and western Lucas counties, and at the Crossroads Centre shopping plaza on U.S. 20 in Rossford.
Northeast Columbus had 15,000 ash trees cut down this year. Some 3,775 were removed last year near Whitehouse. Hundreds of other trees have been cut down in Hicksville, Ohio.
The pest was first sighted in the United States in Michigan in 2002, where six million ash trees are dead or dying. Ohio's first sighting was in the Whitehouse area in 2003. The beetle has also been found in southwestern Ontario, where 84,000 ash trees were removed this year. Maryland, Virginia, and Indiana also have had outbreaks.
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