Longfellow ash crisis is about more than pesticides vs. no pesticides

I would like to commend MinnPost for covering the important ash tree treatment debate in Longfellow (“In Longfellow, a divide over how to deal with a common tree killer: emerald ash borer,” 1/4/17). However, there were no quotes from residents in favor of ash treatment, and there are many such residents — especially considering that the Longfellow Community Council (LCC) voted 6 to 5 in favor of releasing funds for the low-income residential treatment assistance project that was up for vote.

Additionally, the article implies that the LCC’s only pro-treatment motivation is to provide a “higher standard of living” for residents. In truth, motivations run much deeper. Our ash crisis is about more than pesticides vs. no pesticides or the cost of treatment vs. the cost of removal. This is about air and water quality for the next 15-30 years, while we wait for the new trees the city is planting to grow. Large, mature ash trees greatly reduce the amounts of carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter in the air. For those concerned about emamectin benzoate (a pesticide Jeff Hahn, U entomologist, has termed “very low risk” to both humans and pollinators), consider the harm caused by a dramatic increase in these air pollutants, well known to be toxic to humans and animals. For example, a systemic review and meta-analysis published in the peer reviewed Environmental Health Perspectives in 2014 found a direct association between increased particulate matter in the air and lung cancer. 

Which of these two scenarios – contained treatment deemed very low risk or increased air pollution from the rapid loss of more than 1600 mature trees — poses a greater threat to our neighborhood? 

Tree treatment is also about the economic health of lower income residents who can’t afford either to treat or remove ash trees on their land. It is about heating and cooling costs, property values, and trying to prevent all of Longfellow from becoming a heat island. It is about finding a nuanced solution to a complex and urgent problem in our community that considers the overall short- and long-term impacts of tree loss on the environment — the air, water, and soil quality — and on residents. 

To reduce the conversation to a battle over pesticides is to miss the point: We are facing a catastrophic environmental event in Longfellow. And simply cutting down all the mature ash trees, often before they even show signs of illness, causes maximum environmental harm in the shortest amount of time. The City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works published a report in 2015 (“The True Cost of Urban Forest Pathogens: A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Dutch Elm Disease: Emerald Ash Borer and Historical Tree Canopy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2015”) that found preemptive removal of healthy trees turns out to be the most environmentally destructive of all proposed options.

It’s fair to say that most of us here in Longfellow do not want to see pesticides used in our neighborhood. But we also want clean air to breathe, a healthy river ecosystem, non-eroded soil in which to grow our native gardens, and protection from the burning summer sun. We want our homes to be worth as least as much as they were when we bought them. We want to be able to afford heating and cooling costs year-round. And we want to do what is best for our natural environment and our residents.

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