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Beline Obeid

War Memorial ash trees get one last shot

June 12, 2008
Mark Weber can see the forest for the trees. Or maybe it's the trees for the forest. Either way, he sees the big picture.

Ash trees lining the Grosse Pointe War Memorial main driveway are being protected from the emerald ash borer. Photo by Brad Lindberg
Weber's trying to save the stately ash trees standing watch along the Grosse Pointe War Memorial driveway.

"Those are donated trees," said Weber, memorial president. "We felt obligated to do everything we can."

It's a can-do attitude in the spirit on which the memorial was founded a few years following World War II. The ash in question were planted during the mid 1990s.

"If I had donated one of those trees, I would hope the War Memorial would do everything reasonable to save it," Weber said.

The memorial has spent $10,000 over nearly eight years trying to protect its 37 ash trees from emerald ash borer, Weber said. The invasive insect from Southeast Asia feeds on ash trees, killing them within a few years of infestation.

"To replace the trees would cost $20,000," Weber said. "We're still financially ahead of the game."

It is believed emerald ash borer entered North America about 10 years ago in a wooden crate of manufacturing parts delivered to western Wayne County. The bug has killed approximately 20 million trees in the state. Infestation ranges from the Upper Peninsula to Maryland.

Infected trees can be kept alive with chemical injections. But even the most effective treatments have had to be repeated annually. They're also less effective if started after borers take hold.

Treatment at the War Memorial used this spring consisted of the latest anti-EAB elixir called Tree-äge, pronounced triage. Weber hopes the chemical has given the trees their best outlook for survival.

"It's not only preservation, it's sort of a science test," said Weber, a former history professor at Indiana University.

Latest and greatest

Tree-äge is trademarked by Arborjet of Massachusetts. The chemical is for certified professional application only and has been approved by the Michigan Department of Agriculture as most effective against emerald ash borer.

"Based on research presented with the application, this looked as close to a golden bullet as possible," said Jim Bowes, MDA emerald ash borer planning chief.

Arborjet claims its product kills established EAB infestations and lasts two years.

A Michigan State University study during May 2007 found all emerald ash borers died in trees treated with Tree-äge's active ingredient, emanectin benzoate.

"(Treated) trees had 99 percent fewer larvae on them than the untreated trees," according to the study.

One of the study's authors, Dr. Deborah McCullough, an entomology and forestry specialist, said trees treated with Tree-äge were "really clean" of borer larvae.

"Of seven trees," she said, "we found eight live larvae compared to untreated trees that had from a couple hundred larvae to a few hundred larvae per tree. Some other insecticides were fairly effective, but none were quite as good as Tree-äge."

She cautioned that data reflects only one year of observation.

Still, given the lack of sure-fire remedies and Tree-äge's roughly $200 per tree application cost, Bowes said Arborjet's solution "shows very promising results in research. It's limited for high-value landscape trees."

Team effort

The War Memorial's predicament gave companies with an interest in eradicating EAB a chance to practice with the industry's latest and greatest cure.

Arborjet donated the product. Brett Marshall, owner of Marshall Landscape and member of the Grosse Pointe Shores Tree Board, injected the trees for free. Also, MDL Tree Service of St. Clair Shores volunteered to remove and dispose of three trees that couldn't be saved.

Marshall has volunteered over the years to treat the memorial's ash trees with insecticide containing imidacloprid, the heretofore most lethal EAB cocktail.

Marshall said Tree-äge is "taking treatment to the next level. It's not proven yet. We don't know the three or four-year projected return on it yet. But the agriculture department is promoting it, so we're giving it a shot."

"Hopefully," Weber said, "our trees won't be very attractive for munching on. This is probably the last effort. If Tree-äge doesn't work, I think the donors will say the War Memorial did everything it could and just didn't go out with a chain saw and cut down the trees. We'll go from there."

War Memorial officials compiled a list of hardy shade trees before selecting to landscape the grounds with ash.

"When we put those trees in, they were considered indestructible," he said. "We studied the whole thing not knowing a crate with little borers in it was going to come from China."

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