DNR grant to help Phillips plan for emerald ash borer, involve students in experiential learning projects Submitted: 02/25/2016
PHILLIPS - Forty-year-old ash trees line Highway 13 entering Phillips from the south. But these same trees are at risk of the deadly emerald ash borer.

EAB hit the city of Rhinelander in fall 2014, making Oneida County the first county in the Northwoods with the pest. Price County has yet to find the beetle, but naturalists in Phillips are planning ahead.

Phillips has offered people the chance to adopt and care for ash trees in town, and the town is also looking into using chemicals to protect some of its most important trees. Meanwhile, the city has been removing ash trees that are already weak, sick, or dying.

"We've been taking those out, probably 10, 12, 15 trees a year," said Phillips Tree Committee chair Marjory Brzeskiewicz. "We don't have a huge ash population as far as numbers of trees, but it does make up 17 percent of this urban forest, so that's a little bit high."

A new $25,000 matching grant from the DNR will help Phillips create a plan for fighting the emerald ash borer. The grant will also allow the city to work with Phillips schools. Students will help with a citywide tree inventory, learn about urban forestry, and plant trees.

"Working with the school is going to be really exciting," Brzeskiewicz said. "This is kind of going to be a model for other communities in Wisconsin."

The student involvement will be based on a similar program in Portland, Maine, through a program called EL Education. It will be written into this fall's curriculum in the Phillips School District.

"One of the things we're hoping out of this school collaboration is that they're going to continue this. It's not going to be a one-time thing," Brzeskiewicz said. "We're hoping to raise a generation of kids that understand the value of urban trees."

In the meantime, the Phillips Tree Committee will stay active in its mission.

"That's really what we want to try to say to the people of Phillips, and Price County as well," Brzeskiewicz said. "Trees are more than just pretty, and they're more than just a place for birds to hang out. They're doing a lot of services for us. We call them ecosystem services."

Story By: Ben Meyer

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