Ashes to Ashes
In Norse legends, Yggdrasil, or the Tree of the World, is sacred and mythical and, by most accounts, an ash tree.
Magic aside for just a moment, the ash also has practical uses. Its bark and leaves have been used in traditional medicines; its wood has been used to make carriages, boats, airplanes, furniture, musical instruments, and for smoking food. Cows, goats, and rabbits enjoy munching on its leaves and branches. Some species of ash can live to be 300 years old.
Roy Siefert (above), a man who knows and loves trees—he was Tioga State Forest district forester from 1999-2014—was keeping the proverbial weather eye on the “good bit of ash” growing on his Chatham Township property. It wasn’t that he was anticipating anything unexpected from his trees—quite the contrary.
“I knew about the emerald ash borer coming,” he says. “Once it is present, it is pretty much determined that the ash trees will die.”
The EAB, Agrilus planipennis, is native to Asia but has been labeled as an invasive species in the U.S. It showed up in southeastern Michigan in 2002, likely arriving in this country on wood packing material. As of August 2017 it has been found in thirty-one states and in Ontario and Quebec. The female EAB lays her eggs in bark crevices and the resulting larvae then munch their way around the tree’s inner bark, diminishing its ability to access and use water and nutrients. It is not only a death sentence for individual trees, but the subsequent mass loss of ash from the ecosystem has effects on other plant and animal species, as well as leading to changes in soil nutrients. And there are the millions of dollars in losses and costs to property owners, municipalities, and the lumber industry.
Knowing all this and more, Roy decided to cut his trees before they died. He explains that the wood can still be used then, but that the trees rot quickly when they’re left standing. That’s not only dangerous, but wasteful, and Roy had other ideas for his doomed ash. He approached Wheeland Lumber in Liberty about cutting his ash. Wheeland is a family-owned company he’d worked with in his capacity as district forester and whose methods and philosophies he found compatible.
And, just as important, he felt they would be helpful with what he wanted to do with the proceeds of the sale. Dave Schultz, a forester with Wheeland, explains that his employer has “made donations over the years to different things, but I’ve never seen one like this.” So, Dave continues, he told Roy he believed this was “a special thing” and that he would take it upon himself to handle the “logistics of the operation.” That included addressing Roy’s concerns about wet areas on his property that wouldn’t be conducive to the use of heavy equipment, and about having the “least amount of impact on the forest.” That led to a discussion about using horses to log out the trees.
“I met with Roy, and talked about how things would get paid out, about the timing, and a lot of different things,” Dave says. “I knew it was right up Roy’s alley to have it done with horses.” And it was. Using Belgians and mules, Laverne Keim, with Keim Logging in Ulysses, began work in mid-January and, within a month, the trees were all cut. Dave also counts adjoining landowner Dale Martin as a helpful contributor to the project, as he was willing to allow the use of portions of his property for the work. “There was a big wet area and a gully that would have been problematic without Dale’s help,” Dave notes.
So, remember the magic of Yggdrasil?
When he was district forester, Roy often worked with Roger and Andy Graham, a Liberty-area father and son team who were loggers.
“We had a good rapport with them while we were working with state sales,” Roy recalls. Sadly, both men were killed in separate logging accidents, leaving, in Dave’s words, “a couple of boys who don’t have a dad or a granddad.” There was a fund set up for the boys, now teenagers, at First Citizens Community Bank, and Roy will be putting a portion of the money he’ll get from the sale of his ash trees into that fund.
He will also be donating to the North Central Pennsylvania Conservancy (www.npcweb.org) and to the Pennsylvania Forestry Association (www.paforestry.org). The PFA is the oldest forest conservation organization in the country, Roy notes, having started in 1886. The Conservancy, with a focus on land protection via means such as estate planning and easement purchase, is the entity that last year purchased 132 acres on either side of the Pine Creek Rail Trail along the Marsh Creek Road and has since created an additional access area to the trail there that includes a rest area and an enhanced wildlife viewing area.
Roy, in his characteristically understated way, says he opted to make these donations “mostly because of the work I do.” He serves on “a couple of different boards, specifically forest-related,” and says he “always thought of our forests as the greatest asset, our game lands, too.”
“A lot of it is payback for my enjoyment of the forests,” he continues. “People think of [forest] landowners only having property to make money off it, but [for him] it’s mostly for enjoyment, wildlife habitat, and privacy. Making money is not the primary thing, so I want to support organizations that have that philosophy.” He adds that he grew up in Bucks County, and when he visits it nowadays he doesn’t recognize it as the same place. He doesn’t want that to happen here.
“It is important to enjoy and value the natural resources around you,” he says. “You can use them but in a manner that ensures we have them for future generations.”