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A pain in the ash: Beetle poses problems and opportunities for city, sawmills

Trees still have value despite damage from emerald ash borer

Saturday, April 13, 2013 - 6:56 am

It's said that one person's trash is another person's treasure. Much the same could be said for trees threatened, damaged or even killed by emerald ash borer.

Just ask the folks at Campbell Road Sawmill in northeastern Allen County, who sent out letters explaining "why you should consider selling your ash trees NOW" just as city officials have been paying a contractor and billing homeowners to remove thousands of trees in the path of the well-publicized Asian beetle.

“We want to buy all (the ash) we can come across within reason, although it did used to be more valuable than it is now,” said Ruben Graber, co-owner of the business started by his father John in 1970. Although healthy ash wood can produce a variety of products, including furniture and trim, wood from infested trees deteriorates quickly, suitable mostly for making pallets and mulch.

Even so, Graber said, ash can be worth anywhere from $80 to $200 per 1,000 feet, depending on condition and other factors, including quantity. He's looking to buy in bulk.

But the city is paying Mudrack Tree Experts $1.2 million to remove ash trees, and about 8,500 have been cut so far, according to city forester Chad Tinkel. There are still about 3,000 to 5,000 remaining on public land, and just this month the city announced a program in which it and homeowners will split removal costs.

So what's going on here? If these trees have enough value to justify an ad campaign, why are taxpayers being charged for their removal?

Pure economics, Tinkel said.

For one thing, often Mudrack has to go out and remove individual trees. The trees are then transported to a storage site, usually in Frank Park. And Mudrack also has to remove the stumps. Wood that isn't good for anything else is turned into mulch.

But what about the rest – the trees that clearly do have some value?

Tinkel said Graber Lumber, which is located near the Campbell Road Sawmill and part of the same extended family, comes and picks up the “good” trees and to date has paid the city about $15,000 for the privilege – money the city uses to plant new trees.

“It's a win-win thing,” Tinkel said. “If (Graber) didn't do it, we'd have to deal with the debris.”

But in nature as in business, though, things change. Will the dwindling supply of ash drive up the cost? Or will the impact of that pesky borer continue to hold prices down?

“Will we run out of ash? I don't know what the bug will do,” Ruben Graber said. “If it moves on, the seedlings will come back.”

And whatever happens, Campbell Road, Graber and other mills will adjust. They have no other choice.

“We buy timber to operate,” Graber said.

Thanks for the support

I seldom publicly respond to readers who take issue with something I have written, but a recent letter to the editor by Judith Harris was simply too good to pass up because, in her desire to refute me, she eloquently made my point.

Responding to the March 21 column in which I questioned the wisdom of Mayor Tom Henry's upcoming interfaith community prayer service (“When you pray to many gods, will any of them answer?”), Harris praised Henry for not questioning whether all the participating religions can be true, adding that she “can't imagine a true religion having a problem . . . (with efforts to) bring citizens together to focus on their similarities that come from the heart in order to foster respect, peace and understanding.

“Since Kevin thinks there are better ways, I'm curious to hear his suggestions.”

Fair enough. How about this:

Ditch the dogma and come with intent for love and respect . . . (to) gain a greater understanding of what the objective of May 5 is really about.

Her words, not mine.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com, or call him at 461-8355.