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NW Ohio said key to keeping U.S. pest-free

COLUMBUS - Two of Ohio's top public officials said yesterday that 2005 is a critical year for sparing the rest of North America from the deadly emerald ash borer, and that the war will be won or lost in the Toledo area.

Eradication efforts under way in northwest Ohio "are of national concern," Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey said during an hour-long presentation to members of Ohio's Senate agriculture and Senate natural resources and environment committees.

"Leading researchers have declared northwest Ohio the heart of a regional EAB battle, and a gateway to the rest of the nation's ash tree resources," Mr. Dailey said. "We cannot stand back and let this ecological disaster happen in Ohio."

His views were echoed by John Dorka, Ohio Department of Natural Resources forestry chief, who said northwest Ohio "could serve as a major conduit for the exotic pest to decimate ash trees throughout the Midwest."

Halting the borer's eastward spread in Oregon is essential because the pest will be hard to stop once it gets into hard-to-reach trees near the Lake Erie shoreline, Mr. Dailey said.

Mr. Dorka said Ohio's economy could take more than a $3 billion hit over 10 years if the war against the borer is not won.

One of every 10 trees in Ohio is ash. The average removal cost per tree is about $400. Some southern Michigan property owners have taken out second mortgages just to comply with orders for removing trees from their sites, he said.

Ohio also is a major manufacturer of tool handles and other products made of ash. Losing the species could cost the state's wood industry $200 million a year, Mr. Dorka said.

Emerald ash borers are tiny Asian beetles that are believed to have been inadvertently imported to the Detroit area via a wooden shipping crate from China. They feed exclusively on ash trees.

The beetles were first identified in a Detroit suburb in 2002. Ohio began battling them in the Whitehouse area in 2003.

In addition to Michigan, they have been found throughout northwest Ohio, the Columbus area, and southwest Ontario as well as Indiana, Maryland, and Virginia.

The Toledo area is seen as a pivotal battleground because it is believed to be the first instance where the beetle has escaped from Michigan on its own.

All other infestations are believed to have been caused by unauthorized movement of firewood or sales of contaminated nursery stock.

Meanwhile, the last in a recent series of four Toledo-area open houses about the emerald ash borer situation will be from 6 to 8 tonight at the former Martin School, 10 South Holland-Sylvania Rd.

State forestry and agriculture officials will be available to answer questions on a one-on-one basis. There will be no formal presentation.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.

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