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Butler forests will be ‘devastated’ in 3-4 years

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Insect killing ash trees that cover 25-40 percent of park

By Jeff Moore

Officials with the Kentucky Department of Parks are looking for public input on how to address the Emerald Ash Borer infestation that is killing ash trees in General Butler State Resort Park.

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A public meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 16, at the park’s conference center to discuss the impact of the Emerald Ash Borer. Kentucky Parks Commissioner Elaine Walker and state parks Naturalist Ron Vanover will be among the officials participating in a discussion surrounding the invasive species that kills ash trees, and will be seeking public input. Other officials will attend, representing the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, Department of Parks, Division of Forestry and University of Kentucky.

General Butler is the only park with such a large concentration of ash trees, Walker said in a Monday interview.

The Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive species from Asia that was first discovered in the U.S. in 2002and arrived in Kentucky in 2009. The insect feeds on and kills ash trees. The insect was found in Carroll County this year.

Walker said the impact on woodlands at General Butler Park will likely be devastating. Somewhere between 25 percent and 40 percent of the park’s trees are ash.

“There are certain areas with concentrations as high as 70 to 80 percent,” she said. “It is incredible how much of the park is covered with ash,” Walker said.

The Department of Parks is considering several steps, including treating a limited number of trees with insecticide and removing ash trees before they become infested, then replacing them with other types of trees.

Walker said officials are considering some treatment of trees to kill the Emerald Ash Borers. However, this is expensive and would be limited by the amount of funds available.

Another option would be to harvest some of the trees, generating money that can be put back into General Butler Park. Walker said this money could be used to spray additional trees and to infill areas with new trees.

With thousands of ash trees in the park, she said they could pick some key trees to be treated, such as in the areas around the campgrounds and cabins.

If this option is pursued, Walker said the parks department will work closely with the state Division of Forestry.

“We are not used to being in a position to be taking down trees,” Walker said. She said they “love to plant” and “love to protect” trees.

The Department of Parks has received a grant to purchase seedlings that can be used in General Butler. But she said it will take years for them to grow to 4 inches across and that purchasing trees that large is extremely expensive.

Another option to be be discussed is to do nothing and let nature run its course. Walker acknowledged that many people have problems with cutting down trees.

However, the problem with this option is the state agency will not have the funds to come in and cut down all those trees once the Emerald Ash Borer takes its toll. She said the effects are already hitting as close as Monterey in Owen County.

Walker said in three to four years, the forest here in Carroll County will be “devastated,” which could pose fire hazards and other problems depending on weather conditions.

Department of Parks spokesman Gil Lawson stressed that no decision has been made on how to proceed. Input received at the public meeting will be used to help officials determine their course of action.

Walker said they hope to develop a plan to minimize the impact on the park.

Should harvesting trees be selected as an option, Walker said the earliest this could happen is at the beginning of 2014 to allow time to mark trees, see bids and find a contractor who wants to do the project.

If they wait much longer than this, she said the damage to the ash trees may be too far along for the wood to be sold.

Vanover said in late spring he harvested some Emerald Ash Borer samples from a tree directly across from the lodge near the golf course. He took those larvae to Frankfort and they did produce Emerald Ash Borers that he has in his office.

He said the impact of the infestation can already be seen in trees to the left of the business office, which sits next to the lodge. Some trees have already lost 50 percent of their canopy.

He warned that the impact will be much more widespread than just at General Butler park. In his research, he found that there are an estimated 3 million ash trees in Carroll County.

Vanover encouraged local residents to start looking at their ash trees for damage. He encouraged them to contact their local Extension office for information.