Greenville’s ash trees coming down in wake of beetle infestation

By Mike Taylor • Last Updated 12:06 pm on Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The loss of Greenville’s emerald ash trees, such as these, foreground, on Orange Street, will change the appearance of many of the city’s streets. The ash trees are infested by the emerald ash borer beetle, an invasive species from Asia. — Daily News/Mike Taylor

GREENVILLE — The emerald ash borer is alive and well in Greenville and it was only a matter of time before the tree-destroying insect’s predations took their toll. By the time city workers finish removing the dying trees, there will be neighborhoods that are noticeably less “green” than they have been in the past.

According to City Manager George Bosanic, the ash borer problem has been spreading through the city for months and shows no sign of stopping.

The beetle was first noticed in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in 2002, likely transplanted there from its native Asia via wooden packing materials used on cargo ships. Since then, the insect has been responsible for the demise of more than 30 million trees across the state.

Municipalities across the state have worked in tandem with the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and other organizations, however the ash borer has continued to spread.

In Greenville, evidence of the damage, and its extent, is only now becoming evident.

“We were hoping it wouldn’t make its way here but it has,” Bosanic said. “We didn’t really know how many (infestations) we had until now, when we see (the trees) all dying. Some are completely dead.”

The city is working to remove the infested trees as quickly as possible in an effort to prevent, or at least slow down, the ash borers’ spread. Crews have been working in several different neighborhoods during the past few weeks.

Bosanic said his office continues to receive calls from residents wondering why the trees are being removed.

“A lot of them don’t know what the problem is,” Bosanic said. “The next question is, ‘When are you going to cut my tree down.’”

Bosanic added that as of last fall, and even early this spring, the extent of the ash borer damage to city trees was mostly hidden. It wasn’t until the middle of the summer that the evidence of the infestation became apparent.

“Our policy is to get the worst ones first,” Bosanic said. “There is a safety question to consider.”

At present, the limbs from the infested trees are being chipped into mulch and spread over the ground at the same location. The logs are being made available for any residents wishing to use them for firewood.

The free wood comes with this caveat, however — it may not be removed from the area due to concerns of spreading the ash borer contagion to other parts of the state not yet affected.

The city is in the process of conducting a census of trees in the city. This census indicates some areas are likely to be more extensively impacted by the removal program.

Streets like W. Orange, for example, have an uncommonly high number of ash trees; once they are all removed, the character of the street will be altered.

“Orange Street has the most ash trees of any street in the city,” Bosanic said. “It’s going to look pretty bare. Some trees are more affected than others. What we’re telling people is we’re taking the worst first, and eventually we will get to them all.”

City crews are working when they have the time, generally in-between other annual autumn projects, to remove the trees. However, neither time nor funding was set aside for the project since there was no way to know for certain when, or if, the city’s trees would become infested.

Bosanic said he has no idea at this time what the total cost of the project will be, once all the ash trees have been removed.

Logs from trees already removed are available for pickup at the city’s brush and leaf collection point on Owen Mumaw Industrial Drive just west off Shearer Road. Logs are available to any city resident, but they must remain in the area.

City Councilman Mark Lehman has posited the idea that some of the wood could be used by local pallet manufacturers, since wood used in pallet construction is heat treated, which would kill the insects. Bosanic is currently checking into the feasibility of this solution.
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