Help offered in replacing trees felled to stop ash borer

ON THE FARM

April 29, 2007|By TED SHELSBY

In an attempt to halt the spread of a voracious beetle that destroys ash trees, state officials cut and burned 25,000 trees in Prince George's County last month.

Now help is being offered for residents who wish to replace the trees.

In partnership with several nurseries, state agencies have established programs that are providing about 700 homeowners who lost trees the opportunity to obtain replacements either free or at a discounted price.

The Department of Agriculture is offering 50 percent discount coupons on the purchase of replacement trees at three nurseries around Maryland.

Later in the year, the state Department of Natural Resources will provide homeowners with vouchers for up to $150 to buy replacement trees.

The programs apply only to homeowners in the 21-square-mile section of Prince George's County near Clinton and Brandywine where the ash trees had to be destroyed, said Kate Wagner, a spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. Homeowners can take advantage of only one of the offers, she said.

According to Wagner, nearly 2,000 of the 25,000 felled ash trees were on homeowners' lots.

The emerald ash borer is blamed for the destruction of more than 25 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. The pest has also established footholds in Illinois and Windsor, Ontario.

The beetle resembles a grasshopper and is smaller than the diameter of a penny. The pest is thought to have made its way from Asia to Michigan in 2002, catching a ride on wooden packaging materials carried by cargo planes.

In Maryland, the beetle was first discovered in trees at a nursery in Prince George's County in 2003. State officials suspect they came in a shipment of 121 ash trees from Michigan in violation of a quarantine.

The state cut and burned all ash trees within a half-mile of the infestation site, south of Andrews Air Force Base. But hopes that the infestation was stopped were dashed last year when beetles were found in test trees the state planted in the region. State officials immediately imposed a quarantine that prohibited the moving of ash trees, logs, fallen branch, stumps or roots in or out of Prince George's County.

The next step was the destruction of the 25,000 trees.

Workers with the Agriculture Department's pest management office are planting test ash trees in the region to attract any ash borers that might have escaped eradication. These trees, which have portions of their bark removed to make them easier targets for infestation, will be monitored over the next three years.

The emerald ash borer burrows through the bark of an ash tree and stops the flow of water from the roots. Leaves begin to yellow, and branches in the top third of the tree die first. The tree usually dies within two or three years.

The beetle kills only ash trees, which are among the most popular landscaping trees in the nation. It is also plentiful in Western Maryland forests. The wood is used to make baseball bats, flooring and cabinets.

Wagner said that homeowners in the designated area could obtain their 50 percent discount coupons for new trees, other than ash, by calling the department's plant protection office at 410-841-5920.

The cash vouchers are to be made available in the fall through the Department of Natural Resources urban forest program.

Flowering invader

When it comes to trees, the state Agriculture Department is saying there can be too much of a good thing. It has designated the Bradford pear, a white-blossom tree that decorates yards and roadsides throughout Maryland each spring, its invader of the month.

The Bradford was introduced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its rapid growth, dense foliage and white blossoms. Its only drawback is a susceptibility to breaking or splitting in even mild storms.

To solve the problem, other varieties were introduced. With the additional cultivars in the landscape, cross-pollination occurred. Bradford and once-sterile cultivars began to produce viable seeds. Birds now commonly sow Bradford pear seeds, and the trees are spreading rapidly.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, they are now choking out the native grasses, flowers and shrubs that would normally provide critical habitat for birds, insects and butterflies.

The department hopes that wild seedling control efforts will solve the problem without the need to eliminate the Bradfords.

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