Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Enemy at the gates [Editorial]

Like the arrival of a Medieval plague, alien invaders are knocking on Baltimore's door. No, we are not talking about foreign armies storming the beaches or bug-eyed creatures from outer space bent on global domination. But it's almost as bad.

We are referring, of course, to the recent appearance in Baltimore of the emerald ash borer, a species of voracious Asian beetle that since 2006 has killed millions of white and green ash trees in its relentless march across North America. In June, city arborists trapped a couple of the critters in Druid Hill Park, a sure sign that more are on the way. If nothing is done, some 290,000 ash trees on city owned property could be at risk of being wiped out over the next few years.

Baltimore can't afford to let that happen, especially in view of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's oft-cited pledge to attract 10,000 new families to the city over the next decade. Baltimore's tree canopy — a measure of the proportion of the city shaded by trees — is a critical element of the urban infrastructure that helps keep homes and businesses cool, cleans the air and water of pollutants and generally promotes a healthier, more pleasant environment for city residents. Without it, Baltimore's long-term viability as an attractive place to live and work is at risk.

That's why time is of the essence if the interlopers are to be repelled before they wreak havoc on our urban forest. As The Sun's Tim Wheeler reported recently, city officials are scrambling to develop a plan to protect Baltimore's ash trees before it's too late. Once large numbers of the stately trees are infested with the deadly pests it will be nearly impossible to save most of them.

In a nutshell, the city's current options range from bad to worse. It could try to treat newly infested trees immediately with chemical pesticides that kill the parasites before they seal their host's fate, or it could simply allow tens of thousands of mature ash trees to die and then replace them with a different species of younger trees that provide less shade but aren't vulnerable to the beetles.

Experience in other cities has shown that there's no practical way of completely eliminating the ravenous insects, whose larvae burrow beneath the tree bark and literally cut off the circulation of water and nutrients inside the tree. Treating the tree with chemical pesticides — either through spraying its leaves and bark or injecting them directly into the wood or soil — kills the larvae, but the different techniques and types of chemicals used in the process vary in effectiveness and cost.

Baltimore's chief arborist is currently weighing the various methods for controlling the infestation in order to present the mayor and City Council with a recommended plan of action by the end of the summer. But his task hasn't been made any easier by the fact that the city doesn't even have an accurate inventory of how many ash trees there are in Baltimore and where they are located — nor does his department have the funds to carry out such a survey.

As Mr. Wheeler reported, the cost of removing and replacing just the 5,000 or so street trees on city owned property could run into the millions of dollars. Treating them could cost considerably less, but questions remain about whether the chemicals might kill benign insects in the environment as well as the destructive borers and whether runoff from treated trees could threaten groundwater purity or leach through the soil as stormwater runoff to contaminate local tributaries to the Chesapeake Bay.

Advocates for treatment rather than removal and replacement argue that maintaining as many of the city's ash trees as possible will actually help reduce stormwater pollution because mature trees absorb a lot of water in their roots and branches, and rain intercepted by their leaves evaporates before ever reaching the ground. They also note that new trees planted to replace those that die or are cut down cast only a fraction of the shade of their predecessors.

These are all factors the city must take into account in determining the most effective response to the invaders, and there are serious risks and costs associated with whatever course the city eventually settles on. But doing nothing simply is not an option if officials wish to avoid the prospect of having a quarter million dead trees on their hands within the next three to five years.

To respond to this editorial, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Emerald ash borers invade Baltimore

    Emerald ash borers invade Baltimore

    Tree-killing beetle, detected in June, threatens to shred urban canopy

  • We must redouble our efforts now that the Freddie Gray cameras are gone

    We must redouble our efforts now that the Freddie Gray cameras are gone

    When Baltimore burned during the recent uprising, there were news cameras everywhere to document the mayhem and rage. As pastor of the only church whose property was torched during the chaos — housing we were building to redress systemic inequities and to revitalize blighted communities was destroyed...

  • Men, their sons and their lawns

    Men, their sons and their lawns

    Along with eye color and a knack for rolling your tongue, an obsession with the grass around your house is hereditary, I have learned. It is also, apparently, a sex-linked gene, because no little girl has ever been born wanting to mow the lawn.

  • Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

    Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

    The searing spotlight of media scrutiny fell upon a Maryland state's attorney, a rising star in Democratic politics. After a high-profile beating death, the young prosecutor convened a news conference to announce murder charges, detail the evidence and insist that the public's desire for justice...

  • Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

    Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

    By now everyone has had their say about Jeb Bush's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The consensus is that Mr. Bush misheard Megyn Kelly's "knowing what we know now" question about the Iraq war. I'm not convinced.

  • Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

    Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

    In the last few weeks we've heard much about the neglected and underdeveloped parts of Baltimore and how decades of degradation and neglect played a role in the recent social upheaval and civil unrest. Almost universally we've heard activists, experts and thought leaders tout education as a surefire...

Comments
Loading

57°