Homeowners and cities are losing many of their big, beautiful shade trees. An invasive insect called the emerald ash borer is killing ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana… and making neighboring states worried. About 15 million ash trees are dead or dying, leaving behind enormous bills. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports some people are trying to ease the loss by salvaging lumber from their dead trees:
Homeowners and cities are losing many of their big, beautiful shade
trees. An invasive insect called the emerald ash borer is killing ash
trees in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana… and making neighboring states
worried. About 15 million ash trees are dead or dying leaving behind
enormous bills. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports some people are
trying to ease the loss by salvaging lumber from their dead trees:
(sound of birds chirping)
The emerald ash borer ruined Frank Wydra’s summer plans. His 10 acre
lot is full of ash trees… more than a hundred. Wydra built an
elaborate shade garden underneath a cluster of ash trees, right next to
his brand new house. Right around the time he and his family were
ready to move in… they noticed the trees were looking sick.
“They were here when we bought the property and we sort of built the
property, the house around these trees. I had no alternative but to
cut these down, because they were so close to the house.”
Wydra says he’s losing a lot more than a shady backyard. He says the
emerald ash borer is costing him at least 10-thousand dollars. That’s
the cost for cutting the trees down, grinding the stumps out… and
planting new trees. But there’s one part of that cost he’s not too
upset about: the 100 dollars an hour he’s paying to have his dead ash
trees milled into lumber.
(sound of portable sawmill at work and running under)
“It’s got a very close grain that allows you to mill it without too
much trouble. It’s nice stuff. I wish I hadn’t built all my
Frank Wydra’s already got more board feet of ash piled up here than he
knows what to do with. But he says he’d rather pay to have the logs
turned into something he can use than pay to have them hauled away.
Wydra hired a company called Last Chance Logs to Lumber. Chris Last
brings his portable sawmill to sites like this one, and with some help
from his family members, he loads the logs onto the sawmill and slices
the bark away.
(sound of rolling logs under)
“We’re required to take at least a half inch below those two layers,
you’ll see as we open this up… just the characteristics of the log will
determine that… usually we take off more than that.”
By stripping away the bark and a half inch of the wood beneath the
bark, Chris Last is making sure none of the emerald ash borers will
Researchers have found that carefully debarking ash logs is one way to
make the wood safe to use.
Chris Last created his business four years ago, shortly after the ash
borer was first identified as the pest killing trees in the upper
Midwest. Since then, he says some of his customers have gotten pretty
“The neatest thing is a gentleman that was an architect, when he had
the tree cut down he left the log standing for about 10 feet, and what
he ended up building was an old English cottage house on top of this
stump. I guess he reads up there, but it’s beautiful, it’s absolutely
gorgeous, every bit of it, every stick is made out of ash.”
Last says he’s seen a church craft new pews from their ash trees, and
he’s worked for cities that have built picnic tables from ash, but for
the most part, homeowners and city officials are just starting to
figure out how to use the lumber from their dead trees.
Jessica Simons is with the Southeast Michigan Resource Conservation and
Development Council. It’s a nonprofit group that’s giving out grants
to promote the use of ash wood. Simons says the idea’s catching on,
but there are some real obstacles.
“To be honest, it can be a tricky proposition. What’s easier: go to
Lowe’s and buy lumber, or to have your dead trees removed, hire a
sawmill, have the mill come out, allow wood to dry and then be able to
finish it into a product.”
But Simons says milling ash trees into lumber can sometimes save money.
Right now, most homeowners and cities chip up their dead trees and have
the chips hauled away. Both of those steps cost money. Simons says by
milling trees on site, you can cut back on the disposal costs and end
up with wood for a new dining table or a bunch of park benches.
Jessica Simons points out that not all parts of the ash trees can be
turned into products. She says most of the ash wood waste from
Michigan and Ohio gets trucked up to a co-generation plant in Flint,
Michigan, where the wood chips are burned to generate electricity.
Simons says that is a good use for the lower-value parts of the trees,
like stumps or branches.
“But the only thing we’ve argued throughout this is that a number of
great logs were in that wood as well, and when you think about the
value that wood can have as lumber or a higher value product like a
railroad tie, it’s worth much more than what a truckload of fuel is
Simons admits re-using dead ash trees won’t cut back a lot on the
tremendous costs that homeowners and cities are bearing to deal with
the ash borer, but she argues that turning ash trees into flooring or
furniture could generate a little bit of money instead of just adding
another line onto the bill.
For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.