Monday, December 9, 2013

Saving the Trees, One Ash at a Time

Usually non-natives are welcomed with open arms to Grand Rapids, but in previous years our city has had to deal with one specific unwelcome guest: the emerald ash borer. These invasive insects were found in southeast Michigan in 2002 and have since infested millions of ash trees in our fair city.

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Since 2009, emerald ash borer (EAB) infestation has occurred in numerous spots all over Grand Rapids. The insects lay their eggs on all species of ash trees and when the eggs hatch the larvae feed just underneath the bark of the tree, which cuts off essential water and nutrients for the ash. In the past several years, you may have noticed ash trees lining the streets that were marked for removal. These were dead ash trees affected by EAB. Last December, 31 Fuller Avenue ash trees were removed due to infestation; just one example of the city’s removal of dead trees.  Fuller does not look the same.  Parks all over the city have received similar haircuts.  It's been hard on tree lovers to see so many beautiful and useful trees gone.

In the early years of infestation, there was little evidence to draw on concerning any type of successful treatment plan for the city’s nearly 5,300 ash trees. Also, treatment prices were quite high for each tree. The city’s initial plan in 2007 called for massive removal of infected ash trees over a period of ten years. Approximately 1,600 trees were removed between 2007 and 2010. In 2008, citizens responded to such drastic removals and an alternative treatment plan was tested. The following year, the Urban Forestry Committee collaborated with the city of Grand Rapids and launched a new plan to treat our ash trees with a compound called TREE-Age, which has become more affordable over time. This solution prevents EAB infestation for up to two years.

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By 2011, close to 1,000 ash trees were treated with the preventative medicine. The future looks far more promising for Grand Rapids' ash trees. The city plans to treat 1,400 trees each year and assess 5% of the previously treated trees annually. Only dead ash trees will be removed, with the goal being to save as many as possible from EAB infestation before the EAB population declines or treatment decreases it even more. Ash trees that are dead need to be removed; if they are on private property it is the responsibility of the homeowner to eliminate the tree before it becomes a hazard.

Grand Rapids hopes to sustain the lives of our ash trees with joint efforts from the city staff, volunteers, Parks and Recreation Department, Urban Forestry Committee, and the EAB Task Force. Our trees add to the splendor of Grand Rapids and we are lucky to have people that are working hard for their preservation.

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