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Ash trees are dying by the millions in the Midwestern United States due to an invasive pest called the Emerald Ash Borer, a half-inch-long, shiny green beetle that feasts on the inner bark of ash trees. The beetle arrived in North America from Asia in the 1990s but wasn’t detected until 2002 in Michigan. It has since spread into Illinois and more than 25 other states and several Canadian provinces. It has been detected as far east as Massachusetts and as far west as Colorado. It is now endemic.
The management focus, therefore, has shifted beyond prevention to wood utilization. By using the wood from dead community trees, we can give the trees a new life, creating good from an unfortunate situation. Illinois once had 131 million ash trees. And, as in our forests, 20% of Chicago area street trees are ash. The Emerald Ash Borer feeds only on the inner bark of trees: the wood is unharmed. We call wood harvested from affected ash trees Emerald Ash Board.
The enormous number of ash trees that have and will succumb to these exotic pests in urban and suburban areas provides communities with the impetus to develop wood utilization efforts and led to the establishment of the Illinois Wood Utilization Team. The protocol for ash timber harvesting can then be applied to other species of trees, which can also provide quality lumber. According to the U.S. Forest Service, reclaimed wood from all dead and diseased community trees could equal 3.8 billion board feet or nearly 30% of annual hardwood consumption in the United States.