As the Emerald Ash Borer continues to spread throughout the state, the Department of Natural Resources is trying to make use of some of the infected trees.
The department held an ash salvage sale this week at the Jackson Washington State Forest, allowing loggers to purchase timber from trees the bug has invaded.
It’s the first of several sales planned throughout the state.
While the DNR says it’s a way to generate revenue from trees that will eventually have to come down, activists worry about the implications for state forests.
The Impact Of The Emerald Ash Borer On State Forests
Commiskey Logger Danny Richards is heading into the office at the Jackson Washington State Forest, ready to bid on some timber.
“I sell it to several different sawmills,” Richards says. “I don’t do any lumber, I just do the logs.”
But there’s something different about this week’s sale.
Among the trees up for grabs is a species that’s become increasingly vulnerable in the forest over the past year.
“It really become noticeable this fall after our rec season started going away, the leaves dropped off,” says Jackson Washington State Forest Property Manager Brad Schneck. “We began seeing a lot of woodpeckers on the campground, a lot of wood pecker sign on the trees, a really good tell-tale sign that the ash has something going on with the ash.”
A section of the forest near Starve Hollow is being hit especially hard.
Peeling away the bark reveals never-ending galleries in infested trees – massive destruction caused by tiny larvae.
The Division of Forestry says infected trees would have to be removed eventually because once they die, they pose safety hazards.
So they’re allowing loggers to come in and remove the trees before they get to that point.
“Those ash trees from the time they’re infested to the time they die is three to five years,” says Assistant State Forester Phil Wagner.
Why The Division Of Forestry Is Holding Ash Salvage Sales
The first ash salvage sale at the Jackson Washington State Forest brought in about $36,000.
That revenue helps pay for the state forest’s operating expenses and 15 percent of it will go into Jackson County’s general fund.
Another portion of the money goes to the volunteer fire department.
But the Division of Forestry says the salvage sales aren’t about the money.
“These trees are going to die,” Wagner says. “There’s no question about that. So, the only thing we’re doing is making sure that we are good stewards of the taxpayers’ resources by including as much of the ash resource in the timber sales when we’re having the timber sales.”
A draft of the Division of Forestry’s Forest Resource Management guide says the purpose of the ash salvage sale is to “reduce the availability of the host food source for the Emerald Ash Borer, thereby potentially slowing the spread of the insect and also utilizing ash trees before they decay.”
“The ash seed will still be in the soil, so the ash will come back and our hope is once the borer comes through the first time and takes out all the big trees, then obviously the population is going to crash,” Wagner says. “And, so, ash trees will make a comeback.”
Activists Worried About Impact Of Ash Salvage Sales
As Hoosier Forest Watch Coordinator Myke Luurstema looks at a portion of trail closed for timber removal, he’s worried about the future of ash trees in state forests.
The Coalition for Urban Ash Tree Conservation, which is made up of arborists, entomologists and public works officials from across the country, released a statement in 2011 saying removal and destruction of ash trees in infected areas is not an effective way to prevent further infection.
“What this represents is this pattern of using selective science or no science to support a forest management plan that maximizes commodity timber production on state forests, on public forests, over habitat preservation, over public recreation,” Luurstema says.
The Indiana Forest Alliance has been making that argument for decades, since logging in state forests started increasing – it’s gone up more than one thousand percent over the past ten years.
Instead of marking infected ash trees with orange paint to identify them for salvage, Luurstema wants the Division of Forestry to let nature take its course and see how the forest responds to the Emerald Ash Borer.
“We would like to see the division of forestry set aside large, contiguous intact blocks of state forest land for two reasons. 1. For low impact public recreation such as hiking and hunting and back country camping. But, also, for forest habitat, for interior forest species and to monitor how forests respond to species, as a scientific control.”
But loggers like Richards say they’ve seen firsthand how the woods respond to the Emerald Ash Borer – and it’s devastating.
This map shows just how prevalent the pest is throughout the state.
Richards says by holding the ash salvage sales, the DNR is making the best out of a very bad situation.
“You can let it rot and fall down or you can get the value of it and you know you’re utilizing the resources better by harvesting it.”
The ash salvage sales will be conducted on an as-needed basis throughout the state.