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Damage from tree-killing beetle reaches far

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- A Chinese beetle that crept into Ohio after killing millions of ash trees in Michigan is eating away at the tree industry in states much farther away.

West Coast nursery owners who supply the Midwest with seedlings say there are fewer customers willing to take a chance on ash trees, once a popular choice for their hardiness.

"There's a surplus of ash trees right now because people aren't sure what's going to happen," said Devin Cooper, owner of Willamette Nurseries in Canby, Oregon. "We've had people cut back orders and cancel orders."

He has 70,000 seedlings worth about $40,000 that he can't get rid of. "I don't know if I'll have to burn them or replant them," Cooper said.

Scientists believe the emerald ash borer arrived in the United States from its native China with wood used to pack cargo. The beetle has infested or destroyed about 6 million ash trees in southeast Michigan, mostly near Detroit, and has been found in northwest Ohio and Maryland.

At North Branch Nursery in Pemberville near Toledo, a field of about 2,700 ash trees probably will be turned into mulch, said owner Tom Oberhouse. The loss could be up to $300,000.

"Our trees are healthy, but there's no market for them," said Oberhouse who, in a good year, sells about 1,200 ash trees to landscapers and garden centers. In 2003, he sold 200.

He won't be buying any more ash seedlings from Oregon, where he normally would get as many as 25,000 seedlings a year.

Nursery owners who supply trees in the Midwest already are trying to figure out what trees will replace the ash.

"It's kind of ironic because we're growing and selling more hybrid elms that are resistant to Dutch elm disease," Oberhouse said.

That disease carried by bark beetles has ravaged more than half the nation's elm population after being discovered in Ohio in the 1930s. Many towns that lost elm trees replaced them with ash trees, thought to be disease-resistant.

Some tree growers have turned to maples and poplars instead of ash.

"There's no sense in planting them if they're not going to sell," said Clayton Wilcher, who runs Wilcher's Nursery in Rock Island, Tennessee. "I'm waiting to see what happens. If it settles down, maybe in three or four years it will blow over."

For that to happen, researchers must find a way to stop the beetle from spreading. So far, there's no insecticide that can do it, and the beetle doesn't have any known natural predators.

"Right now the only control is chopping down the trees," said Bill Stalter, executive director of the Ohio Nursery and Landscape Association. Its survey of 100 tree growers in Ohio found that the combined value of their ash trees was $20.2 million.

Michigan has banned the sale of ash trees in the lower peninsula through next August in hopes of gaining control of the pest. In southeastern Michigan, where the ash borer was first detected last year, tree growers have lost at least $9 million in sales. That doesn't include losses by retail garden centers and landscapers.

"It's just devastating to our industry here," said Amy Frankmann, executive director of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association. "It was the tree of choice. It grew anywhere through drought or rain."

She said one tree grower has lost $1 million in sales and it will cost $500,000 just to remove his trees from the fields.

Ash trees can take from three to five years to mature from seedlings, so many growers are facing a difficult choice on whether to plant the trees without knowing what's ahead.

"I think the cautious grower is going to sit back and see what happens," Stalter said. "Wholesale growers are going to hold off."

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This Emerald Ash Borer has devastated southeast Michigan. The only way to control it is to cut down the trees. In fact, the Michigan department of agriculture has mandated that all Ash trees within 1/2 mile of any infected ash tree be cut down. They think this might help control the spread of the pest, but nobody really knows anything right now.

This is especially bad for people like us...we've got 20+ Ash trees in our yard. And we stand to loose every last one, some of which are 150+ years old, within the next 2 years. The Emerald Ash Borer survey team comes out and inspects all the trees for signs of the pest once each month during the spring, summer, and fall. Last year we applied this chemical that supposedly kills the bugs, but it's very expensive because many of our trees are 2-3 feet in diameter. And at $100 per tree, it's not cheap. The borer is now supposedly within 3/4 mile of my house now, so maybe this summer the state will come cut down every single tree in our yard for us.

To make matters even worse, someone brought infected firewood to the west side of the state, so now they are also desperately trying to save millions of trees.

It will be interesting to see what happens to the timber industry in the state...I forget now exactly how much this is going to cost the economy in the state, but it's a lot.

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I read about this last spring. How terrible. Folks in Cleveland are very concerned when the bugs showed up in Toledo.

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The people in Cleveland should be concerned. It caught us off guard, and now it may be too late. If the treatments for the Ash Borer don't work, Michigan could loose all of it's ash trees. This should provide a lesson for people though: don't plant the same kind of tree in large numbers. First all the Chestnut trees were killed by the Chestnut blight, then it was the Elm trees & the Dutch Elm Disease, and now it's the ash trees and the Emerald Ash Borer. It's only a matter of time before another foreign pest invades like this again, killing off an entire species of tree, or any kind of plant for that matter.

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