Ash borer trees disappear, forest thins

Trees have been on my mind lately.

I dream of lounging in a hammock beneath big leafy shade trees with the leaves rustling in the wind. Squirrels scamper up the thick trunk and chatter back at me from the upper branches. I am so ready for our trees to be green again.

But sadly some of our trees will not be budding green leaves this year. Many of our ash trees, victims of the emerald ash borer, are on their way out. Our woods are more open and thinning as more ash trees die.

Jim Campbell, Director of the Clark County Park District, told me recently that George Rogers Clark Park had more than 600 ash trees with trunks that were more than six inches diameter before the emerald ash borer struck. I imagine those trees will all be gone before long — and that it is the same throughout our towns, school grounds, subdivisions, cemeteries and fence rows.

Some people, like Bethel Twp. Trustee Nancy Brown and her husband, lost most of the trees on their lot, while other folks may have lost just one. We have two shade trees that are slowly dying and need to be cut down this summer.

Those seeking firewood this last cold winter were at least able to use the dead trees. But as the greening time arrives, I keep wondering what will replace those beautiful shady ash trees.

Now those who hate to rake leaves in the fall may find it tempting to not replace their ash tree. To them I say, “Don’t be a hater.” Trees are too important to our local environment to not replace. As each tree falls, we lose a great resource for shade, wild life habitat, oxygen production, erosion prevention and wind reduction.

In my opinion, the chopping down of the great Midwestern forests for farmland, which was and continues to be necessary to our survival, has already changed our weather patterns. We cannot undo farmland because the fields are too important to feed the world, but we can continue to have woodlots, parks, green towns, wooded cemeteries and yards to buffer our local environment a bit.

Landowners who want to fill those empty places in yards, fence rows and wood lots have to make some choices. Looking at the soil, drainage and needs of the landowner before buying is important.

According to Campbell, the park district hopes to continue clearing out the invasive honeysuckle before moving forward. Honeysuckle grows so thickly that it shades the ground and discourages any seedlings from replacing the dead trees. It even stops wildflowers.

An oak tree surrounded by thick honeysuckle will not have oak saplings around it to replace it, as would happen naturally. To replace the ash trees, the park district is hoping to eventually plant a variety of nut trees to encourage more wildlife.

Since I don’t enjoy the excitement of mowing over hickory nuts, walnut, and acorns (Fore!), I decided I needed to come up with a list of trees that I can happily live with — even in my bare feet.

It is a time to talk to tree experts. And who knows more about trees than some of our local landscape growers? Studebaker’s Wholesale Nursery on the east of New Carlisle has more than 1,200 acres of trees, bushes and plants. I decided to call owner Dan Studebaker and ask him, ‘What grows best in our area?”

Next week I’ll share my findings with you. Meanwhile, think spring.

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