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Health, Science & Environment

In Licking County, there's a 'bounty' on invasive pear trees

A "wanted" stamp is printed over a tree.
Allie Vugrincic
A Bradford Pear tree in front of Granville Elementary School on North Granger Street. Licking County Pollinator Pathway put a "bounty" on the invasive trees and will give residents who cut them down free native Ohio saplings as replacements.

In Licking County, the Bradford Pear is wanted – dead, not alive.

Licking County Pollinator Pathway is offering a “reward” to county residents who kill the invasive tree.

On Wednesday, Dawn Burton had a Bradford Pear removed from her property on Raccoon Valley Road in Alexandria. With the help of a neighbor and a chainsaw, the small tree came down in just minutes.

It was the second Bradford Pear Burton has had axed. The remnants of the first, a much larger one, lies in pieces near her driveway.

“I spent years thinking it was so beautiful because it turns, you know, all white and flowering in the spring and a nice crimson in the fall,” Burton said.

Then she noticed the trees cropping up everywhere. They appeared in the woods at the edge of her property. They shot up in her new prairie.

A man wearing a hard hat uses a chainsaw to cut the base of a small tree at the edge of a wooded area.
Allie Vugrincic
Chris Crader cuts down a small Bradford Pear tree on Dawn Burton's property in Alexandria.

Non-native nuisance

That’s the problem with Bradford Pears: they’re not native to Ohio, but they’re spreading quickly.

“The ugly truth is they're highly invasive,” said Susan King, coordinator for Licking County Pollinator Pathway. The partnership of more than a dozen educational and environmental agencies formed after entomologist and bestselling author Doug Tallamy gave a popular lecture at Denison University in late 2022.

“People came out of that saying like, 'oh my gosh, this is amazing, and we need to do more to plant native remove invasives.' Now what?” King said. “What” turned out to be working toward creating a continuous corridor of native plants to support pollinators.

Now Pollinator Pathway is encouraging people to remove the problematic Bradford Pear with a bit of humor: they’ve placed a “bounty” on the trees.

The reward: free, pollinator-friendly native Ohio trees.

A woman crouches near a plot of strawberries in an urban park.
Allie Vugrincic
Susan King, coordinator of Licking County Pollinator Pathway, talks about native plants near strawberries in a small garden on East Broad Street in Granville.

“This idea of making it a bounty, like being a bounty hunter in your backyard, is just making a serious problem into something that people can smile and wrap their head around,” King said.

The Bradford Pear

The Bradford Pear (aliases: Callery Pear or Cleveland Select) was brought to the U.S. from China. It was thought to be disease-resistant and sterile. But the tree escaped into the wild after it was crossed with other pear species.

It’s been illegal to sell or plant Bradford Pears in Ohio since Jan. 1, 2023. State law, however, doesn’t have a provision for removing the trees that are already there.

“People have started to realize the problem, especially this spring, when you could not drive along the highway without seeing the sea of white blooms and feeling like, this helpless feeling,” King said.

Bradford Pears crowd out native tree species and often break or splinter in storms. They’re also essentially “food deserts” for Ohio’s native pollinators, King explained.

“Because it was from another continent, you know, the wildlife, particularly our insects, have not evolved to be able to eat the leaves of the Bradford Pear,” she said.

Birds, on the other hand, love the tree’s messy fruit, which looks like miniature pears.

“So, the birds eat the fruit, the birds poop the fruit, and the seeds are viable. And so, they are spreading everywhere,” King said.

Three trees line a corner at an intersection. They are marked with dots of paint.
Allie Vugrincic
Three Bradford Pear Trees sit in a line on one corner of the intersection of North Galway Drive and Newark Granville Road in Granville. Bradford Pears have white flowers in the early spring and then grow waxy leaves and produce fruit later in the year. They hold onto their leaves late into the fall.

Marked for death

Don Hostetter, chair of the Granville Tree and Landscape Commission, said the trees were very popular early in the 20th century. People planted them everywhere.

Now the five-member volunteer commission that advises the village council on which trees should be planted or removed and replaced in the village right-of-way is taking aim at the Bradford Pears.

As Hostettler drove around Granville, he pointed to Bradford Pears marked with paint. There are three on either side of the entrance to the Glen at Erinwood at North Galway Road and Newark Granville Road. Two more sit on the Mulberry Street side of Denison’s Monomoy Place. Others are spread throughout the village.

Residents know what the mark means: it’s the orange spot of death. Hostettler said sometimes people get upset seeing healthy trees marked for removal.

“When you, start removing trees like this that are mature, you know, you need to have a good public relations things,” Hostettler said. “You know, we're trying to get out in front of that with notifications.”

He said it’s always policy to notify residents who live within a certain distance of a tree slated for removal. In this case, the first notice came in the form of a note on people’s water bills.

Hostettler said King, who is also on the commission, and several of Pollinator Pathway’s groups, have been spreading information about the trees.

“They’re a nuisance, and they’re doing a lot of damage,” Hostettler said.

Granville will start removing trees downtown and then work its way out toward the edges of the village.

A woman holds a cluster of leaves on a tree.
Allie Vugrincic
Chance Patznick, superintendent of Newark's parks and cemetery department, shows what Bradford Pear tree leaves look like.

Stopping the spread

In Newark, the Parks and Cemetery Department will remove the last 12 Bradford Pears on its land this year.

Parks and Cemetery Superintendent Chance Patznick pointed to two of the trees in Levin Park on Sharon-Valley Road. They’ll be gone by fall.

“We had over 20 to start with, so we've had eight come down already. And they were not small. They are big trees,” Patznick said.

Newark will replace the Bradford Pears with the Parks and Cemetery tree budget. Patznick loves oaks but said she would approve any native tree.

"We just want to be able to do our part so that they're not spreading from any of our parks or our cemetery," Patznick said.

As for Licking County residents – anyone who gets out there and kills a Callery on their property can show a photo to receive the reward. Up to three saplings of trees like dogwoods, burr oaks, and serviceberries, will be provided – but Pollinator Pathway stresses there’s no limit on how many pears can be removed.

Sapling pick up is 9 a.m. to noon on May 11 at the Ohio State University Extension office in Newark. Vouchers to get larger native trees from certain local nurseries will also be available, along with protective fencing.

The bounty program is sponsored by Denison University’s Denison Venture Philanthropy, which invests $10,000 into local non-profit organizations.

Health, Science & Environment invasive speciesLicking Countynative plants
Allie Vugrincic has been a radio reporter at WOSU 89.7 NPR News since March 2023.