Columbus, Grandview Heights Take Similar Approaches Planning for Emerald Ash Borer

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Keith Culbertson removes the crown of an ash on Northwest Blvd. in Grandview Heights
Keith Culbertson removes the crown of an ash on Northwest Blvd. in Grandview Heights

In less than ten years the Emerald Ash Borer has taken a devastating toll on the ash trees in the state of Michigan. And it’s spreading. It’s now been found in 31 Ohio counties. Without a significant breakthrough in fighting the tree killing insect, the impact here could be devastating. Two central Ohio cities, Columbus and Grandview Heights, have similar plans to deal with the invader.

People traveling along Northwest Blvd. in Grandview Heights will find the drive a little sunnier this week. Crews are pruning branches of trees in the median. But some tree trunks have been painted with red circles. Those are ash trees and they’re going to be cut down. It’s the first step in a long range plan already underway in Grandview Heights. Mike McKee is the city’s arborist.

“We decided to start eliminating the ash trees that were in poor condition immediately,” McKee says. And as the years go on we’re going to start eliminating some of the ones that are over planted and maybe those that are a continual maintenance problem.”

McKee says contractors will cut down about 40 ash trees this fall. In a way, Grandview Heights is fortunate that it only has about 240 ash trees along its rights-of-way and in its parks. Unfortunately EAB kills just about any kind and size of ash, whether it’s sick or healthy. McKee says the greatest number of ashes will taken down before the end of the year.

“The ash borers are not in Grandview yet that we know of,” McKee says. “The closet so far has been in Worthington. So until we have a positive I.D. after the removals we do this fall we’ll probably step back and see what’s going to happen next.”

McKee says an infested ash will die in about three to four years. Some newly developed pesticides have shown some ability to fight EAB. In the interim, Ohio officials are bracing for a plague of Biblical proportions.

“We know its coming; maybe it is on some of our trees already,” says the city forester of Columbus, Jack Lowe. “We don’t know yet but at least they’re not already dying and we can respond to it more proactively.” Lowe oversees 120,000 trees along city streets. Ten percent, about 12,000, are ashes. Even though there are already pockets of infestation, particularly in northeast Columbus, Lowe says none on trees the city is responsible for appear to be infested. Lowe says trying to save the city’s trees with using pesticides would be too expensive.

“At least from a municipal standpoint as a manager of a large number of trees, it would probably not be cost effective treating 12,000 trees trying to protect them,” Lowe says. “You’d probably be spending more money than it would cost to remove.”

Depending on the tree’s size and location, removal could cost hundreds of dollars per tree; and hundreds more for stump and root removal and replanting a tree from another genus. The city of Columbus already cuts down about 1,400 trees annually. But that number could grow dramatically if the EAB infestation spreads.

“We do know that we need to get them down before they start dying, decaying and falling, because they do deteriorate rather fast,” Lowe says. “Our main point on the tree removal is not to get rid of the insect; we know it’s here and nothing’s going to stop it. We need to protect the public from falling trees.”

In the meantime, Lowe says, officials are hoping for a miracle.

“We’ll just try to see what the latest research shows,” Lowe says. “We all hope that something would come along to treat them and save them.”

But if an effective pesticide or predator is not found before the beginning of the “onslaught” as Mike McKee calls it, a lot of homeowners with ash trees have a very expensive task ahead. McKee says they should be prepared.

“Save money if you have a lot of ash trees you have to have taken down,” McKee says. “You need to start thinking about it and possibly start putting some money aside.”

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