City employees have been hauling ash.

City employees have been hauling ash.

Ash trees, that is. They've been cutting them down and taking them away in recent weeks as a result of a tiny insect that's causing big problems throughout the state.

The Northland area was especially hard hit by the recent spring activity to halt the spread of the seemingly insatiable emerald ash borer.

"In general terms, this spring we had an initial group of roughly 400 trees from the Northland area and also the Easton area, and there might even have been a small section in the Linden area," said Jim Gates, an arborist with the city's Division of Forestry. "Basically across the north end of Columbus is where the initial infestation took place."

Northland Community Council president Dave Paul experienced firsthand what it's like to see a formerly tree-lined street denuded of the shade. Virtually all of the trees on his Blackoak Avenue home in Forest Park have been removed.

"That's pretty much all we had was ash up and down the street," Paul said.

The emerald ash borer, a beetle native of Asia, first arrived in Ohio in 2003. It came to central Ohio that same year, arriving in some landscape plants sent to the Easton area from Michigan, according to Gates. From an Easton parking lot, the invasive insect began to spread, which is what put the Northland area in harm's way.

"I love ash trees," Gates said. "It was a great tree. I'm really sorry to lose it as one of our go-to trees. It's a shame."

An old inventory of city-owned trees shows that about 12,000 ashes are located around more than 2,000 miles of roadway, he added. That does not include parks or golf courses, which may have that number of ash trees and perhaps many more, Gates said.

"We have no idea because obviously many of our wooded areas have never been surveyed," he said. "We've got our hands full.

"It will take us years."

Columbus boasts so many ash trees for a couple of reasons, he said. When introduced to the city it was a relatively new tree, and was planted extensively to replace the American elm, which suffered a dramatic decline in the latter half of the 20th century as a result of Dutch elm disease.

The ash was a beautiful shade tree, one that was native to Ohio and grew straight and fairly rapidly, Gates said. The species had a high survival rate and beautiful fall colors.

Areas such as Paul's street, where practically all the city trees have been removed, will be first in line for replacements, Gates said, although this time around it's going to be with a variety of species to prevent yet another future pest from starting the same cycle all over again.

"Those are going to be a first priority," Gates said. "We're going to come in and grind out the stumps. Citizens are offered a replacement."

"I was kind of attached to the trees on my street," Paul said. "In fact that was one of the reasons I was drawn to our house, was the canopy of trees.

"I have to say the street looks a little wider, if you want to find a silver lining."

Tree-devastated blocks receiving priority for replacement is nice, Paul added, but it is going to require patience on the part of residents.

"But of course that's going to take some years before they're anything more than a stick in the ground," he said.