In the past few years more than 12,000 dead Ash trees have been cut down in Cincinnati on publicly-owned land. According to documentary filmmaker Andrea Torrice, Cincinnati almost went broke trying to keep the invasion from damaging property and endangering citizens. In describing the infestation, she said, “It seemed to happen overnight.” Unfortunately, Cincinnati is not unique. Since emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive Asian beetle, was first identified in 2002, communities all across the country have reported signs of EAB and face losing huge portions of their tree canopy. In total, it’s estimated EAB will kill between 50 to 100 million ash trees in the US and Canada.
The risk of emerald ash borer, however, is not just limited to canopy loss. The effects ripple through the ecosystem affecting other plants, animals and water supplies. Emerald ash borers eat tree bark and cut off access to the nutrients and water a tree needs to survive, and can kill an ash tree in as little as two years. Efforts aimed at reducing the spread of invasive species like EAB have proved costly for businesses that sell ash trees or wood products, property owners, and local and state governments alike.
We sat down with award-winning documentary filmmaker, Andrea Torrice to discuss her most recent film, Trees in Trouble. The film, which is set in Cincinnati, tells the story of America’s urban and community forests: their history, their importance to our health, economy and environment, and the threats they face today. Like many citizens, Torrice was not familiar with the spread of EAB and its impact on her neighborhood until she began to notice swaths of dead trees spray-painted for removal. Upon gaining a deeper understanding of the issue, she felt compelled to create a film that brought the issue to national attention. Torrice weaves together urban forestry history, public policy and science with personal stories to create a film designed to appeal to people of all ages.
In addition to raising key questions about the challenges our forests face amidst climate change and the spread of invasive species, Trees in Trouble serves to educate citizens on the social, economic, environmental and health benefits trees provide. Throughout our conversation, Torrice was quick to highlight solutions communities can take to protect native trees such as increased monitoring and public awareness, all in an attempt to offer hope for the future. Torrice said, “Education about and awareness of EAB is a necessary first step in order to get citizens involved in the long-term preservation of our urban forests.” She encourages citizens to advocate for updated tree ordinances and to let their public officials know they support funding for the care and maintenance of our urban forests. At the same time, she acknowledges that local government cannot solve the problem alone.
In Cincinnati, for instance, a mandate requires the city to remove all infested ash trees on public land. The cost and scale of this removal project means the city can only afford to replant one tree for every three lost. Stories like this are not limited to Cincinnati, which is why Torrice believes the most successful initiatives to mitigate the effects of EAB are those that bring together multiple stakeholders.
The Taking Root initiative, which brought together 220 diverse organizations and partners across Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, was started in response to the spread of EAB. The goal of the campaign is to address the current historic loss of our region’s tree canopy by planting trees, better managing local forests, promoting the benefits of healthy trees, and fostering a sense of stewardship among individuals and communities.
Ultimately, better management of our urban forests starts with a clear understanding of the trees in your inventory. Information on tree condition and biodiversity as well as ecosystem benefit calculations provide actionable insights for municipalities on where to focus finite resources, and can help local governments advocate for budget increases. Our urban canopy is a testament to the foresight and commitment of past generations, and without proper attention to the long-term care of trees we risk leaving future generations with substantially fewer trees.
Click here to see when Trees in Trouble is airing in your area.
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