Morristown residents go to bat for two trees on death row

Morristown resident Gary Thomas, left, asks town officials to spare an ash tree on Hazlet Street. Photo by Marion Filler.
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By Marion Filler

Only 10 ash trees remain in Morristown. Residents pleaded with town officials on Wednesday to spare two of them from the wood chipper.

One tree is in Burnam Park, another is on Hazlet Street. Residents described them as “historic,” although the trees’ exact age was questioned by the town arborist during a sometimes-testy meeting of the town’s Shade Tree Commission.

Gary Thomas, who lives on Conklin Street, drew strong rebuttals from officials when he questioned the Town’s policy of removing all ash trees to stem an infestation by a bug called an Emerald Ash Borer.

Morristown residents hope to spare this ash tree on Hazlet Street from removal. Photo by Gary Thomas

When the Emerald Ash Borer invaded southern Michigan in 2002, arborists on the east coast though there might be time to find a fix before it got here. They were wrong, and now the unstoppable insect has come to Morristown in full force.

Some 179 ash trees — some not yet infected — have been removed from Morristown, along with many more from Morris County parks, town Arborist Rich Wolowicz told Wednesday’s gathering, which included Mayor Tim Dougherty, Council President Stefan Armington, Councilwoman Sandi Mayer, and town Administrator Jillian Barrick.

Only 10 ash trees are left, according to Wolowicz.

The removals have sparked controversy, but officials have insisted the action is necessary to prevent injuries by falling limbs from infested ash trees.

Thomas suggested treating the tree with AzaSol, a new chemical he said has had some success, as opposed to Benzoate, a treatment that has proven ineffectual.

“Give us a shot to save that tree,” Thomas said of the ash on Hazlet Street. “All we are asking is that you wait until spring to make that determination.”

The tree in Burnam Park has a reprieve until spring, when it leafs out and can be evaluated. The Hazlet tree, on the other hand, has been targeted for removal, as are all other ashes on town streets

Mayor Tim Dougherty, Shade Tree Commission Chairperson Kristin Ace and Councilwoman Sandi Mayer field questions from residents about ash tree removals. Photo by Marion Filler

Commission Chair Kristin Ace unequivocally opposed the idea of chemicals as treatment for street trees.

“We have to look at the whole picture,” she said. In the past, the public was told DDT and Roundup were safe insecticides, only to learn they were not, she said.

As for Benzoate, “There is not enough evidence about this chemical, because we haven’t used it long enough,” Ace said.

Mayor Dougherty voiced sympathy for the residents, but agreed with Ace.

“When studies say it is ‘highly unlikely’ that anything can happen, it’s not definite. Chemical companies are in business for a reason: To sell chemicals. I have read enough to know that no chemical is going to save the trees — it may prolong its death, but I don’t think it will save the tree.

“I haven’t met a benzoid yet that isn’t harmful to humans somewhere down the line,” Dougherty added.

When confronted by a resident who suggested protests may come if the trees were removed, the mayor responded forcefully:

 

Thanking residents for attending, the mayor pledged further study on the fate of the Hazlet tree — but stressed that public safety is foremost.

“We will come up with a policy decision based on this tree. You are not asking for the moon, but I want to make sure the chemicals are okay. We’ll get the dead wood out, and Kristin and the arborist will look at the tree, and we will make a policy decision.”

 

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