“Like killing your grandfather before he has cancer”: Real-life Lorax fights to save trees in Lancaster

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LANCASTER, Pa. -- As an infestation of tree-killing emerald ash borer beetles are about to reach the City of Lancaster, city officials and local arborists are at odds over how they should attack the impending problem.

The invasive bug, which came to America from China and has already destroyed millions of ash trees in the Midwest, has been spotted in 56 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. The City of Lancaster has decided to remove most of its estimated 300 ash trees before the borer beetle arrives, calling it a preemptive strike.

"We'd love to save every tree. It's just not feasible," said City of Lancaster Arborist Jim Bower, who added the city plans on treating half of the 130 ash trees located in Long's Park, as well as others in Reservoir Park and Buchanan Park. "This is something we can't control."

Lancaster-area arborist Doug Engle begs to differ. He and his groundskeeping crew spent Friday driving door-to-door in area neighborhoods, handing out information fliers and offering a free treatment service to residential ash trees. They would inject the trees with a certain chemical, designed to kill emerald ash borer beetles. The insecticide needs to be reinjected every two years.

"If any borers make it to the tree and start to feed, they don't make it," Engle said.

He doesn't understand why the City of Lancaster wants to remove the ash trees before the beetles arrive. "It's like killing your grandfather before he has cancer," Engle says. The nearest borer beetle spotting was in Mount Joy on May 8. They are not believed to be in Lancaster City yet, although there is a possibility, says Bower.

"We want to be proactive and not wait until the beetle is here," he added. "Once the beetle is here... the next year it's dead, and you have a standing hazardous dead tree."

Bower says removing the ash trees instead of treating all of them is the most cost-effective solution. The city plans on planting two trees of a different species for every ash tree removed, and is offering the same deal for Lancaster residents and ash trees on their private property.

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