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County looks to future without ash trees

Emerald ash borer found in Medford, infestation fatal to ash tree species
County looks to future without ash trees County looks to future without ash trees

Taylor County’s forest landscape will look different in coming years and this could have an impact especially in lowland areas of the county forest.

According to the Wisconsin DNR, emerald ash borer has been confirmed in Taylor County for the first time in trees in the city of Medford. It was inevitable that Taylor County would have a confirmed infestation. It is 71st out of 72 counties in the state with confirmed infestation.

Emerald Ash Borer larva tunnel into the ash trees and feed on them causing the eventual death of the trees. Areas with EAB have seen nearly a 100% mortality rate in the infected trees with trees with trunks as small as one inch in diameter being killed by it.

County forest administrator Luke Williams told members of the county’s forestry committee that ash accounts for between 15% and up to 100% of forest stands within the county forest. The higher percentages are typically in lowland areas because partially green and black ash are more able to tolerate the wet soils.

Williams cautioned that these areas may end up “swamping out” as the trees die and other trees do not take their place because of the limited number of species able to thrive in those conditions. This will also make preemptive harvesting of the wood challenging because wetland areas typically require frozen ground harvests to minimize soil disruption. Mild winters, such as this year’s which saw temperatures well above average and little freezing prevent logging from taking place in wetland areas.

According to Williams, it is likely the trees found in Medford have been infected for three to four years. If left on its own, EAB spreads relatively slowly, however, this spreading is accelerated through human interaction such as with the movement of infected firewood.

Williams said as they prepare for a landscape without ash trees in it, the county will prioritize stands with the most ash present in them over the next See COUNTY on page 4 few years.

“Ash is not going to be a component of our forest going forward,” Williams said.

Ash in this region is typically used for pulp wood with a relatively small amount going to saw logs.

EAB is not the only invasive species putting area forests at risk. There is also Oak Wilt in the region and Williams cautioned not to cut oak trees until after July 15. Oak wilt is caused by a fungus that is carried by a beetle. The beetle is active from spring into mid-summer and goes into wounds on oak trees and then will spread through grafted roots through an oak stand.

“I would not recommend any pruning or damage to oak during that time frame, “ Williams said of the April 15 to July 15 window when the beetles are most active.

Committee member Gary Beadles noted this can be a challenge for loggers working in the woods, noting it is easy for equipment to accidentally scrape an oak tree while cutting other species.

Forest sales

Taylor County will be putting four timber sales out on bid with a total of 207 acres included in the spring sale. The county puts timber sales out to bid in spring and fall and typically averages about 400 acres to be put out for harvest each year.

The four tracts in this sale include a 58-acre parcel of selection harvest with mixed hardwood pulp and hardwood logs with an estimated value of $28,713; a 41acre tract with selection harvest primarily being mixed hardwood pulp and saw logs with an estimated value of $22,947; a 48-acre tract with 45 acres of selection harvest and 3 acres of shelterwood harvest with mixed hardwood pulp and hardwood logs with a total estimated value of $19,571; and a 60-acre tract with coppice harvest and some birch scarification composed mostly of Aspen pulp with an estimated value of $25,028.

With the exception of the Aspen harvest, the other sales include a high percentage of ash trees. Bids will be opened on June 6.

The timber sales were mapped by the DNR forester Timothy Allen. Assistant forest administrator Alex Solawetz noted that all the projects looked like nice jobs with good ground and good road access.

Beadles questioned if the county has lowered minimum bids for any of the harvests in light of the market conditions.

Allen explained this is already factored into the software used in estimating the value of the stands taking into account the average prices over recent years of sales.

“They are being adjusted for what the markets are paying,” Williams said.

In other business committee members:

 Discussed the need to give extensions for winter ground logging projects that were not able to be completed this past winter. Loggers with outstanding sales should contact the office to file for an extension request. Beadles said they need to treat it like last winter never happened.

 Approved going with a larger culvert as recommended by the highway department but to continue working with a private contractor to put in a 38 foot aluminized culvert on Trout Ave. in the forest to address drainage issues. The projected cost is about $7,000.

 Approved an agreement to accept $2,500 from Pember, the contractor for the Chelsea Lake Dam project and to pay Ayres Associates the remaining $5,000 for additional engineering oversight done on the project. With the payment of the final bills, the county will submit for reimbursement through a state grant for the project.

 Received a report from Williams that the fishing pier was installed at Camp 8 Flowage. Committee members and staff praised the Taylor County Sportsman’s Club for their help with the project. The pier will be able to stay in the lake year-round. In addition, the DNR placed about 400 9-inch trout in the flowage in recent weeks.

 Received an update that the county forestry department will be having an intern paid for through a grant from the Golden Sands RCD for up to 500 hours of work in the field season. Chairman Scott Mildbrand noted that it is good to be able to help younger people with an interest in forestry to get experience.

 Received word that work is continuing on establishing a new gun range in the county forest with the county working with groups to get grants to help fund its development. The grants would require a 25% match and the county would have the longterm maintenance costs. Committee member Rollie Thums supported having the range have a 300 yard capacity noting the number of people from this area who have high powered rifles for when they go hunting in other states.