ALPENA - After more than a decade of waiting, the full tragedy of the emerald ash borer is now being felt in Alpena and the surrounding counties. Thousands of the trees failed to leaf out this spring and are now becoming pale skeletons as woodpeckers pry away bark.
The trees also are creating a new danger. A mature ash can weigh over a ton, making its limbs, trunk, even the smallest branches a danger if they come crashing down onto a home, a roadway, a powerline or a human being. Especially in a wind storm, experts said.
For most homeowners, their hearts sink when they see the first tell-tale patches of missing bark on the trunks. It means the loss of natural beauty and shade, and hundreds of dollars in expenses to get the trees removed.
"It's devastating," said Tom Dryden, a retired systems analyst who lives at Hubbard Lake.
Dryden has six ash trees on his lot.
"I'm going around the trunks, spraying them with bug spray, looking for bore holes, brushing at the bark," he said. "I keep checking them."
Remember these rules:
Keep children away from areas where trees or branches could fall, especially in winter, when branches are heavy with snow.
Cut down dead ash trees within the first year that they fail to leaf out. They become dangerous when branches begin to fall off. The vibration from a falling branch also can cause others to separate and fall.
If a dead ash tree is near a power line, road, home or building, hire a professional to cut it down.
Make sure the professional logger has liability insurance and the proper equipment to do the job.
Do not cut trees in your yard unless you have solid experience with chainsaws and timber felling techniques.
Check with your home owner's insurance agent about your liability coverage.
Wear a hardhat and equip yourself with other safety devices, including chaps, ear and eye protection and gloves.
The first eight feet of a tree trunk can contain metal, especially when located around a home. Nails are especially dangerous, because they can damage chain saws or be flung through the air at a high rate of speed.
Get quotes from several tree removal companies. Ask for references.
Dryden's favorite is a towering specimen more than 70 feet tall just off his back deck. Its trunk and those of other trees stand like soldiers in the back of his home, while a canopy of their leaves shades their view of the sparkling lake.
When Dryden and his wife, Claudia, built their home on the site in 1979, his favorite ash was gouged with a backhoe. Rushing to save it, Dryden applied tar to the wound to keep disease out and the tree survived another three decades. Then in 2000, the emerald ash borer from Asia began infiltrating the countryside.
Dryden said he contacted an expert, who recommended injections for all of the trees, but the cost was prohibitive at $300 each, and might have to be repeated, he said. So he is letting nature take its course.
"I'm going to wait until the very last minutes to take them down in hopes the bugs will decide to leave them," he said. Then he caught himself.
"I know that's a ridiculous thought," he said.
Ben Nowakowski also knows about the heartbreak.
"Within five years they'll all be gone and something else will take their place," said Nowakowski, who is conservation district forester for Alpena and Montmorency counties.
These days he also is worried about the dangers of standing dead wood. A mature ash tree can weigh over a ton, and a branch falling from 50 feet can do extensive damage to people, homes, power lines and roads, he said.
"If the bark is peeling off, you have at most one year before the ash tree starts dropping large branches," he said. "For two or three more years, you'll have a dead trunk standing there, and that will fall over."
This means that not only homeowners but hunters, snowmobilers and other people who use the region's forests for recreation will face risks, especially in windstorms.
Nowakowski was raised with a sawmill in the front yard of his family's home, and knows his way around trees and chainsaws. He recommended that homeowners have their dead ash removed quickly and safely.
"It's cheaper to remove a tree from your yard than to remove a tree from your livingroom," he said.
But removing some of the trees isn't for the typical do-it-yourselfer, he said.
"Cutting a tree down depends on your particular skills," he said. "If you're capable, you can save yourself a few bucks. If you're not, you can put the tree on a powerline, someone's house, a car. You can land it on yourself."
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.