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Ash tree protection threatened by funding cuts

Faced with a severe cut in federal funding, the state of Ohio is changing the way it will fight the spread of the Emerald Ash Borer. The burrowing tiny insect has killed millions of ash trees in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. And the states, using federal money, have been trying to stop the infestation from spreading.

Because of the federal funding cut and a lack of state funding, the infestations could spread.

Since the emerald ash borer was first spotted in Ohio in 2003, the state has cut a quarter of a million ash trees - most of them in the northwest part of the state. Because there is no known natural predator for the ash borer and no known pesticide, entomologists and agriculture officials determined cutting down ash trees to stop the spread of the insect was the best way to stop it. Because the ash borer naturally moves about mile per year officials ordered the removal of all ash trees within a mile of a known infestation. The discovery of two infected trees in southern Delaware County led to the cutting of 21,000 trees.

Ohio Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Melissa Brewer says it's been important for the state and federal governments to try to stop the Emerald Ash Borer.

In Ohio alone we are looking at 3.8 billion ash trees.. One of every 10 trees is an ash.. That's really a lot at stake- industry, the environment the eco systems, there's just a lot at stake, reasons for why we are doing what we are doing in Ohio to battle this pest, Brewer said.

But now the federal funding for the program has been cut - severely. In 2006 The US Department of Agriculture asked Congress for $32-million for ash tree protection in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. Congress appropriated $10-million.

The USDA's Emerald Ash Borer Program Coordinator Craig Kellogg can only guess as to why Congress reduced funding.

At this level, there's really no reason given. We can always speculate.. between all the other programs going on at USDA, the cost of war, the cost of the hurricanes and the clean-ups and all that good stuff But we are not at the level that we were given the full reason why we were cut, said Kellogg.

So USDA and the states shifted focus. Cutting will all but cease. Ohio will let the northwest Ohio infestation run its natural course. Officials still plan to use whatever money they have to cut trees in other parts of the state if they spot the beetle. They will use the remaining funds to monitor the insect, enforce quarantines and educate the public.

But as of now, Ohio does plan to use any state funds to combat the infestation. Which leads to the question if the ash tree population is so important to Ohio, and if eradication is the only current way to stop infestations, why won't the state put up some of its money to cut more trees? We asked Ohio Ag Department spokeswoman Melissa Brewer..

Well the state has stepped up to the plate with in -kind services and taking those programs and running with them but as far as how much money can be contributed.. I don't know who to even direct you on that, said Brewer.

Governor Taft's spokesman, Mark Rickle said with current state budget pressures it would be difficult to allocate additional funds to the program. Rickle pointed out two years ago it was the federal government which came to Ohio looking for help. The Governor's office estimates Ohio needs $50 million to fight the insect. This year Ohio is slated to receive $2.7-million.

Neither Michigan nor Indiana is spending state money to cut down ash trees.

But the USDA's Craig Kellogg said states can do more to protect Ash trees without spending a lot of money. He says they could pass laws keeping landscape companies from moving ash trees. State can monitor and curtail the movement of ash firewood.

In other states where you do not know where the beatle is at yet, but you know a population is brewing, if you put legislation in place that says don't sell or move around ash products then even if you didn't know where it's at, you can stop some of the artificial movements. , Kellogg said.

In Michigan's Lower Peninsula, where infestation is the worst, it's illegal to sell or move nursery stock ash trees. There are also tight regulations on the movement of other ash products such as lumber and firewood. Ohio and Indiana only prohibit the movement of ash trees and wood from quarantined areas.

Now that most of the cutting will stop, state and federal officials hope researchers come up with a pesticide or another way to stop the ash borer. The Ohio Ag. Department's Melissa Brewer maintains all the cutting they've done and the millions of dollars they've spent over the past few years was worth it.

By no means have our efforts been futile. Going in and doing eradication reduces the population we have here in Ohio and ultimately works with our goal to slow the spread of our best and protect the rest of our ash trees, said Brewer.

Mike Thompson spends much of his time correcting people who mispronounce the name of his hometown – Worcester, Massachusetts. Mike studied broadcast journalism at Syracuse University when he was not running in circles – as a distance runner on the SU track team.