On front lines battling deadly pest

Loggers to fell 550 Md. ash trees in an effort to save many more

March 23, 2004|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

BRANDYWINE - Clinton "Beaver" Goad scoured the woods here yesterday, armed with a chain saw to combat the state's latest invasive pest.

The burly, energetic logger spent his day felling ash trees, sometimes trimming them into logs so they could be hauled off with a backhoe.

In the next few weeks, he will cut down about 550 ash trees so that they can be shoved into pits and burned as part of a state-funded effort to keep Maryland's ash trees safe from the emerald ash borer.

"Finding the trees is just part of the job," said Goad, 60, of St. Leonard.

Goad's firm will be paid $2,500 a day to attack the ash borer, a beetle that has killed 6 million ash trees in Michigan and was found last summer in Prince George's County.

His crew uses chain saws and a backhoe to cut down and uproot the trees - marked by state inspectors with white- and red-dotted ribbons. They plan to cut down every ash within a half-mile of the nursery where the beetles were found - a move state biologists hope will save the millions of ash trees growing throughout the state.

The tree clearing is scheduled to be completed by mid-April - a month before adult ash borers normally emerge from the bark of the tree, fly off to nearby trees, mate, lay their eggs and slowly kill the trees as the bugs feed and multiply.

The $500,000 estimated cost of the project includes site inspections, tree clearing and monitoring to check that the pests have been eradicated, said William F. Gimpel Jr., administrator of the Maryland Department of Agriculture's plant protection and weed management section.

Yesterday, dozens of ash trees were turned into a mountain of wood off Route 5 in southern Prince George's County. The area, owned by the Maryland-National Capital Park Planning Commission, is just west of Ed's Plant World, the nursery where a state inspector found the beetles in August.

Goad has been logging since he was 18, the age when his energetic work habits earned him his nickname.

"I was about 135 pounds then, and I was really working on cutting up this big log, and someone said, `Look at that beaver go,'" he said.

He said he had been through the woods several times before the work began yesterday, scouting the site.

"I pretty much know where all the ash trees are," he said.

State officials say the emerald ash borer goes after only ash trees, and that ash trees elsewhere in the state should be safe.

But they cannot be sure.

The pest arrived in Maryland in April, when Ed's Plant World agreed to purchase ash trees from a Tennessee nursery. The nursery contracted with a Michigan distributor to ship 121 trees, which were taken from a borer-infested area that had been under a state-imposed quarantine. Ed's then unwittingly sold infested trees, along with others that might have been exposed, to landscapers and homeowners.

The infestation was discovered Aug. 28 when a state inspector spotted the D-shaped holes made by the beetle in some ash trees during a routine inspection at Ed's.

"We were shocked once they told us the severity of the problem," said Ed Marson, owner of Ed's Plant World.

The Michigan distributor, Stuart Leve, was fined $12,300 last year for violating state plant quarantine laws and ordered to pay Marson $60,000 in restitution. Leve also could be held liable for Maryland's eradication costs.

Marson said he has been paid for the Michigan trees but will probably have to sue to be compensated for the other ash trees he owned that he had to destroy because of the infested shipment. An ash tree costs about $150, Marson said.

389 trees destroyed

Of the 121 Michigan trees, three remain unaccounted for, state officials say. A total of 389 ash trees at the nursery were destroyed, state officials said. Tests showed 71 of the trees on site had emerald ash borer larvae in them.

But there may be other ash trees at Ed's that might have been infested and sold by the nursery that have yet to be found, state officials say.

"We don't know how complete the record is in terms of where those trees ended up. Normally, for a nursery, there's really no reason to know where every individual plant is going to end up," said Michael Galvin, supervisor of the state Department of Natural Resources' urban and community forestry program.

The beetle, native to Asia, was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Experts think it probably entered the United States several years earlier in packing material.

Pests spread quickly

The pests spread quickly, killing 6 million trees in Michigan, by chewing from the core of the tree out through the bark, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients to the tree. The beetles, which also have been found in parts of Ohio and Windsor, Ontario, can kill a tree in two to three years, Gimpel said.

Ash trees have become increasingly important to communities. They thrive along streams and rivers, and in recent years conservationists have planted thousands along waterways to prevent soil erosion, Galvin said.

About 290,000 ash trees grow in Baltimore, approximately 10 percent of the city's tree population. The Baltimore metropolitan area has about 6 million ash trees, which make up about 3 percent of its forests.

"Six million trees is a lot of trees," Galvin said.

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