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Published: Monday, 10/25/2010

Neighbors question extent of tree cutting in Oak Openings

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A June 5 twister destroyed thousands of trees in a 150-acre section of the preserve west of Whitehouse. Piles of toppled oaks are being removed from the preserve and an adjacent part of the Maumee State Forest.

But some of the most frequent visitors contend the park district is ordering its logging company to clear perfectly healthy trees to accelerate a management plan that includes the return of more wild lupine plants for the rare Karner blue butterfly.

A meeting to discuss the operation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the preserve's lodge at Wilkins Road and Oak Openings Parkway.

Jeffers Road resident Liz Uhlik says the Metropark is taking down too many old-growth trees that she and others say withstood the ravages of the tornado.

"Each person that uses the park has their own particular relationship with the park and the trees. All of us experience this over many years," she said. "I don't understand, and I disagree with this cavalier treatment of trees that are so old and so beautiful. My grandparents experienced that. My whole family has paid taxes and used that park. I'm just horrified by this."

Jeffers Road south of State Rt. 64 is the general vicinity most affected at the Metropark. With 4,000 acres, the preserve encompasses more land than all of the park district's other Metroparks combined.

"It seems they're taking down more than they should," according to Mel Harsh, who also lives in the area.

Scott Carpenter, spokesman for Metroparks of the Toledo Area, said the first priority is removing trees that impede the safety of people wanting to use them for horseback riding, hiking, and cross-country skiing. Only portions of the trails have been open since the tornado struck.

It's not just a matter of removing obstacles.

Mr. Carpenter said aging, brittle - even partially damaged - trees that are 80 to 100 feet tall must be removed if there is a risk of them falling and striking visitors using one of the trails.

"From a safety standpoint, we can't let them stand," he said.

Much of what's happening ends up being a subjective call for park district officials and the logging company under contract. The latter's compensation is the result of wood it salvages, Mr. Carpenter said.

He said they're trying to be sensitive and practical. Some trees near the end of their life spans are being removed to create more sunlight for native plants such as the wild lupine.

The park district is in the midst of an ongoing effort to return more Oak Openings land into its historic prairielike oak savanna, with scattered trees.

The Oak Openings region is one of the world's most diverse, with a third of all of Ohio's rarest plants.

Floodplains will continue to be dominated by trees, said LaRae Sprow, a land management grounds technician for the park district.

"We're looking at it from a habitat perspective and [critics] are looking at this at the individual tree level," she said.

Trees with yellow ribbons around them have been given priority status. They will definitely be among those saved, Ms. Sprow said.

That doesn't necessarily mean everything without a ribbon will be cut.

But there will be changes.

The tree removal might not have happened so quickly without the tornado, but the damage has given the park district the impetus to move forward, Ms. Sprow said.

"It's dramatic," she said, gazing at the destruction.

"That's the reality that's been given to us by the tornado."

One of the park district's certified arborists, Jason Diver, said it's better to take down injured trees now than risk exposure to oak wilt, a fungus that can lead to one of the most serious tree diseases in this part of North America.

Many of the trees that appear healthy have "open wounding," he said.

"This is far too prevalent not to address," Mr. Diver said.

Leaving trees to rot on the soil could lead to more invasive plants, he said.

The logging began Oct. 11. It's to continue every Monday through Thursday at least until the end of 2010 and possibly until April, Ms. Sprow said.

The cutting is in addition to that of nearby ash trees infested by the emerald ash borer.

The park district also is taking down many nonnative pine trees that were planted by the Civilian Conservation Corps created during President Franklin Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal.

At the time, the emerging park district thought about getting into the logging business itself as a way of underwriting operations. Many of the pines are now dead or dying, having lived to the end of their life cycles, officials have said.

Ms. Uhlik said she knows the difference among the oaks, the ash, and the pines.

She said she is most saddened by what's happening with the oaks.

She said she believed the park district could be saving more of them.

"When I look at an oak tree that's 100 years old, I see the past and the future," she said. "I think it's really important to keep those trees for other people too."

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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