Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Wood from a Bad Situation

Evidence continues to stack up proving that trees are among our best friends who help us to enjoy healthier and happier lives.

Trees give us better air to breathe because their leaves draw in carbon monoxide and other toxic gases and pollutants such as sulphur dioxides, nitrogen oxides, and even particulate matter. Scientists say that a single tree can absorb 10 pounds of pollutants every year.

That’s all stuff that trees save us from breathing into our lungs. A U.S. Forest Service study calculated that trees prevent 670,000 incidents of acute respiratory problems and save 850 human lives a year.

There’s an unfortunate flip side, however. Another study, this one published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which says that the loss of millions of ash trees to the emerald ash borer has increased respiratory and cardiovascular illness in some U.S. states. Fewer trees, less air filtering.

The borer, a fairly recent immigrant from Asia, bores under ash tree bark and sucks the life out of the tree’s vascular system. This tree killing beetle was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and moved quickly into Ontario. It has killed tens of millions of ash trees in 24 U.S. states and Ontario and Quebec.

The Emerald Ash Beetle has not been reported yet in Haliburton, says James Rogers, the county’s forest conservation officer. He says the county is watching for early signs of an infestation and urges residents to report any suspected sightings through the Invading Species Hotline at 1 800 563 7711.

The larvae of the borer have white worm-like bodies and feed just under the bark of ash trees. The developed insects emerge in summer as iridescent metallic green bugs which feed on the trees’ leaves. They are very pretty to look at.

The EAB, as professional tree folks call the borer, is an ecological and economic disaster. It is estimated to have killed in the U.S. and Canada more than 100 million ash trees, which have to be felled and disposed of before they fall down and damage power lines, property and people.

There is some good news in all of this. It is about how some bright people have come up with innovative ideas for disposing of downed ash trees. Ideas that make use of the wood, create some jobs and save taxpayer dollars.

When millions of ash trees started dying most municipalities felled them and ran them through machines that turned them to mulch.  Grinding ash trees into chips for mulch costs roughly $8 a tonne, plus as much as $100 a tonne to haul it to landfill sites.

Some municipalities now auction, or donate, the trees for other uses. Ash boards are as strong as oak and can be used for furniture, decks and flooring. They can be used to make park benches, landscaping timber, playground equipment – pretty well anything that is made from wood.

Dead ash trees have value because the larvae boring is just beneath the bark and does not affect the rest of the wood.

Ash lumber also is being donated to school woodworking classes and prison shops where it helps people learn woodworking skills and brings in a few dollars from finished product sales.

Revenue from ash wood sales can be used by municipalities to help pay the huge costs of removing dead ash from public places.

In Illinois, hit especially hard by EAB, it has been estimated that reclaimed ash wood could meet 30 per cent of the United States’ hardwood needs, or roughly 3.8 billion board feet.

If and when EAB arrives in Haliburton it is not expected to be as much a problem as in more southern areas like Toronto. James Rogers notes that Haliburton forests have a lower percentage of ash than Southern Ontario and the loss will be more ecological than economic.

These tree plagues are sent to try us. We have seen over the years chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease, beech bark beetle and other lesser epidemics. All sad, but it is heartening to see the initiatives being taken to make use of good wood felled by a bad situation.


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