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Court orders man not to interfere with tree cutting

BOWLING GREEN - State agriculture officials went to court this week to force a North Baltimore property owner to allow workers to cut down ash trees that either are infested with the emerald ash borer or are likely to be because of their proximity to infested trees.

Late Tuesday, Wood County Common Pleas Judge Robert Pollex issued a temporary restraining order against Joe Stefanka, who, according to the state's complaint, ordered surveyors off his property Nov. 6 and later said he might "shoot the bastards" if he saw them on his property again.

Although the judge's order prohibits Mr. Stefanka from interfering with the cutting and removal of ash trees on the property, Melissa Brewer, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said no cutting would be done there until the state's request for a preliminary injunction is heard Wednesday in common pleas court.

Mr. Stefanka, 80, said yesterday that he was unaware of the court action. He denied threatening to shoot anyone, but said he told them he would "shoo" anyone involved in the tree-cutting off the 19 acres he owns on the south side of the village.

A rural Van Buren resident, he said he has owned the wooded property at the north end of Richardson Street in North Baltimore for about 50 years.

"I think it's all wrong myself," he said. "They're taking trees that I've had for 40 or 50 years for nothing. They're not paying me nothing."

Mr. Stefanka said he questions the state's plan for eradicating the emerald ash borer, an exotic Asian beetle that feeds on ash trees and ultimately blocks the flow of water and nutrients to the branches, causing the tree to die.

The state is cutting down about 15,000 trees in the North Baltimore area to try to prevent the pest from spreading. The project is about three-fourths completed, Ms. Brewer said.

"How are they going to say it won't spread?" Mr. Stefanka asked. "I'd rather get something to treat the bugs. They have all kind of scientists and chemical companies; why can't they come up with something to treat the bugs?"

Ms. Brewer said no property owners are happy about losing trees, but most have been understanding. This case is only the third instance in which the state has had to get a court order to go on a property and cut down ash trees. It faced similar opposition from a property owner in Perrysburg and another in Whitehouse, she said.

"The majority [of property owners] hate to lose their trees but there are so many ash trees in Ohio and in North America that most are willing to sacrifice that tree," Ms. Brewer said. "The majority of the public has just been great."

In some cases, the state has allowed property owners to burn the wood from the trees for firewood or has permitted them to bring in a portable sawmill to cut the noninfested portion of the wood into boards, Ms. Brewer said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.

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