City taking right approach to combat EAB threat

MANY PEOPLE ARE OLD enough to remember when tall, stately elm trees lined many streets in urban America.

They are also old enough to remember when the vast majority of those silent sentinels fell victim – both literally and figuratively - to the deadly scourge of Dutch Elm disease.

While that disease continues to be a threat, it is no longer the scourge it was in the several decades following World War II, thanks to highly improved treatment and control programs along with the development and availability of several resistant American elm and hybrid elm species.

Now, a similar scourge faces another popular species of tree in urban America.

The emerald ash borer, an invasive pest native to Asia, was first discovered in ash trees in southeast Michigan in 2002 and has since spread from Kansas to New England and from Ontario to Georgia.

That spread includes Wisconsin and now even here in Plymouth.

EAB was confirmed in several trees at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on County PP earlier this summer and the city has moved quickly to take action against the infestation.

The City Council at its last meeting agreed to apply for a cost-sharing grant from the Bay-Lakes Regional Planning Commission – with funding from the U.S. Forest Service and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative – for a tree replacement program.

Unfortunately, the most effective way to combat the EAB is to remove ash trees – healthy as well as diseased – before the beetle can spread to those still unaffected.

In the city, that means 506 city-owned emerald ash trees in parks, on city property such as the wastewater treatment plant and City Hall, and in public street right-of-ways, will have to be removed over the next five years. That’s about one of every five city-owned trees, according to Public Works Director William Immich.

That’s a lot of trees to lose for a city that takes great pride in having been designated a Tree City USA for 23 consecutive years.

It’s an extreme step, but it will at least be tempered somewhat by the aggressive tree replacement program that will be funded in large part through the anticipated grant funds.

It will also lead to a more diversified stock of city-owned trees, as Immich said the city will be planting 15 different species of trees to replaced the emerald ash trees that will be coming down. That should help reduce the risk of any future unknown infestation or disease having as destructive an impact as Dutch Elm disease or the emerald ash borer.

All of that will go a long way toward maintaining Plymouth as a Tree City USA while retaining the charm of the city’s many treelined streets and tree-filled parks.

Of course, the grant and the tree removal and replacement program address only city-owned trees.

There are many emerald ash borer trees alongside private homes and on private property throughout the city. Addressing those tree owners, Immich commented, “EAB isn’t going to pick on just city trees, it’s going to pick on your trees, too. Each homeowner has to deal with this individually.”

Property and home owners with concerns about their trees can find plenty of help on the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection’s informative website, datcpservices. The site includes helpful videos on identifying ash trees and emerald ash borer infestation.

This aggressive effort to combat EAB will mean the virtual disappearance of that species of tree in the short term, but in the long term will hopefully create a much healthier and vibrant selection of urban trees throughout Plymouth.

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