This shiny little bug is an Emerald Ash Borer. (*boo* *hiss*) It and its compatriots have killed approximately 25 million ash trees in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario. Basically, once this bug moves into the area, every single ash tree in the area will die. So, public service announcement: do not EVER move firewood from this part of the world elsewhere! It just might harbor these bastards (scuse my language) and kill every single ash tree in YOUR back yard.
I had two large and three small ash trees in my yard. Now I have one large dead ash tree. It was one of the most magnificent trees I’ve ever seen. Come to think of it, I should post its picture instead of it’s executioner’s pic…
But here’s my idea. All these ash trees, if left alone, appear to die. The main trunk becomes standing firewood after the beetles girdle it under the bark. However, the beetles only attack boles over a certain diameter – my guess is that smaller boles have a thinner section of cambium, which is the bit the beetles eat. On smaller trunks, they can’t fit between bark and wood. Or maybe it’s just not worth it. I’m not sure about the details, but it does seem to be the case that they only attack larger trees.
Once the main trunk dies, the tree sends of side shoots. The roots of the tree are fine, and they put their energy into these side shoots. We cut down a couple small ashes last year, figuring they were doomed, anyway, and this year, there are half a dozen “whips” about 4 feet long and an inch in diameter growing out of each stump. Which got me thinking…this is coppicing! Coppicing is essentially the art of growing wood – usually for firewood, but also for long, straight poles – from these side shoots of cut stumps, known as “stools.”
Ash is known as a very fine firewood, which even burns well when green. An acre of ash stools can produce a cord of wood every year, indefinitely – the trick is you only harvest 1/7th of the stand each year. By the time you get back around to the first section of the stand, it’s regrown to firewood size again.
Is there a new life for ash trees as coppice-wood? Oil prices are skyrocketing; we’ll need more firewood. And though we’ve usually just cut virgin timber in this country, the British have known for a long time that coppicing is a much more sustainable way to get firewood. As a bonus, no splitting is needed – just harvest when it’s 4-6″ in diameter!
Just for fun, I’ve ordered 10 baby ash trees. I’m going to plant a hedge, essentially, and see what happens. Oak apparently coppices well, too, so I’ll plant a few acorns this fall and include them in the experiment. I don’t know if this will save ash trees in this area – they won’t reach reproductive size, anyway – but maybe it will help until some kind of control comes along for the beetles. And maybe I’ll get some firewood out of it. Or maybe it won’t work at all. But you know me…I always need a project to be figuring out.