It's Not Just Leaves Falling Anymore!

Michelle Wood, District Program Administrator

October 18, 2018

Everyone looks to the leaves in October for a glimpse of beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows. There’s something about the burst of colors that transforms our everyday scenes into something spectacular. Perhaps because the display is fleeting, and we know the next five months will feature 50 shades of gray and brown, we really appreciate nature’s show.

Not to be a downer about the whole fall season--it’s great and all--but as I start paying more attention to leaf peeping, I notice a lot of trees without any leaves at all. Unfortunately, they haven’t just dropped their leaves prematurely; they are dead.

More and more ash trees are dying each year from the emerald ash borer, an exotic beetle that likely snuck in from Asia in cargo. Since this nasty bug was discovered in 2002 near Detroit, it has spread to 35 states and Canada, and killed hundreds of millions of ash trees. It’s actually the larvae eating the inner bark of the tree that kills it, not the adult beetle. If you have an ash tree that hasn’t been infested yet, it will be. Ash trees are on the brink of being totally wiped out. I’m probably not telling you anything you haven’t heard before.

 An infected ash tree is already brittle from the inside out before it looks totally dead. Therefore, unlike some trees, ash trees do not stand long when they are dead.

An infected ash tree is already brittle from the inside out before it looks totally dead. Therefore, unlike some trees, ash trees do not stand long when they are dead.

But I’m sure most of us didn’t realize how many ash trees are out there until they started dying. My husband and I had 25 cut down from around our house last year. Other than the obvious big ash that was in our front yard, I hadn’t really paid attention the 24 others around the perimeter of the house. They are not showy trees that draw much attention, until they are dead or dying and need dealt with. And I can tell you having trees cut is not a fun way to spend money, but one of those necessary evils of home ownership. And be aware that landowners are liable if a tree on their property causes damage to another. So, it’s a good idea to bite the bullet and deal with an ash tree before it becomes a liability. At least they make great firewood, and we are set for this winter and next.

Even if you don’t have an ash tree in your life, the expense of dealing with these dead trees is a problem for all of us. I’m not trying to be Chicken Little (the sky is falling!) but drive anywhere and look at the number of dead trees poised to fall across the road. This is a huge expense and liability for utilities, county/township/state road crews, as well as individual landowners. Even more importantly, and the main reason for this article, is the increased risk of falling trees for all drivers.

 Photo credit www.AmericanForests.org

Photo credit www.AmericanForests.org

An infected ash tree is already brittle from the inside out before it looks totally dead. Therefore, unlike some trees, ash trees do not stand long when they are dead. And they are unpredictable. This point was driven home when a couple of weeks ago, one of the dead trees along our driveway crashed down during a perfectly calm and beautiful evening, with absolutely no wind and (surprisingly!) no rain that day.

I sometimes play a little game on my 15-minute drive home to see how many people are on their phone or looking down (a sure indication they are texting). My unscientific study shows that sometimes almost 50% of people that I pass are texting or talking. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person on the road actually looking at it. The sky isn’t falling, but a tree might, so put your phone down and pay attention when driving!

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Michelle Wood, District Program Administrator

Michelle oversees the day to day operations of the district and the diverse activities offered to promote clean water and healthy soil. With a lifelong passion for the outdoors and a background in communications, she appreciates the conservation district grassroots model which enables the local board and staff to create programs that meet the conservation needs of Holmes County. Michelle is a member of several state and national committees. Contact Michelle at 330-674-2811 or at mwood@co.holmes.oh.us