“GOING GREEN” IS USUALLY a good thing.
But not when it comes to the emerald ash borer, an invasive species with the potential to drive North American ash trees to extinction. Tens of millions of trees have been destroyed by this Asian iridescent invader since it first appeared in Michigan in 2002. Signs of infestation were discovered last summer in a town of Saugerties campground, and recently in three village trees.
While scientists and public officials work to slow the spread of “EAB” by enforcing bans on transporting firewood more than a few miles, fostering immunity in the ash species, and releasing natural predators like the Asian tree wasp, those who own ash trees will face a choice: inoculate at a cost of about $750-$1000 per ash tree (good for 2-3 years), or begin a managed plan of removal. The latter is of particular concern for municipalities who count ash among their shade trees because of the liability issues posed by dead and dying trees whose limbs extend over well-trod sidewalks or power lines.
“One of the biggest problems in the Midwest is that communities were faced with having to remove thousands of ash trees very quickly because of liability issues and they hadn’t planned for that monetarily,” said Mark C. Whitmore, a forest entomologist with Cornell University’s Department of Natural Resources.
With this in mind, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development is organizing a series of volunteer ash tree inventory events in area towns. The Saugerties event was held Saturday, April 2. It was headed by Elizabeth D’Auria and Meredith Taylor.
“We already know Saugerties village has the emerald ash borer – we know it’s here,” said D’Auria.
Once they map the village’s ash trees, they’ll consult local arborists and get estimates for the cost of removal. The group is hoping that the community will play a role.
“We’re trying to help the community, and hopefully they’ll help us,” said D’Auria. “If people just get more aware of the trees that are around them, we can chart out the whole village.”
Jonathan Mogelever, the membership and outreach coordinator for the Catskill Center, said the project has become urgent as EAB spreads throughout the state.
“This project really took on a new dimension since last spring, early summer, when the first emerald ash borer was detected here,” he said. “It’s an important cause.”
The trees die as EAB larvae siphon off vital nutrients, impairing its circulatory system. An ash tree can go from being healthy to dead within the space of just a year.
What to look for
At Saturday’s event, a map of the village was divided into thirteen sections, with each volunteer assigned a segment of the map. GPS units were handed out in order to pinpoint the exact location of each ash tree, and binoculars were issued to take a close look at buds on the trees, as it can be more difficult to identify the species of a tree in early spring before the leaves appear. Volunteers were informed as to what to look for.
“There are only a handful of trees that are oppositely- branched,” Taylor said. “Once you see that, you can look at the bark, and if it has diamond-shaped grooves in it, that leaves you with three options, because there are only three trees oppositely-branched that have diamond-shaped grooved bark: the Norway Maple, the Box Elder, and the Ash.”
Photographs of the three types of trees Taylor refers to makes it easy to see the difference. “The Norway Maple has an asparagus-type bud, the Box Elder bud has a fuzzy covering on it, and then the Ash has a stumpy bud with a kind of smiley -face scar underneath,” Taylor said.
D’Auria said increased signs of woodpecker activity is another sign (they like to feed on the larvae), but you need a few more signs before it’s safe to say it’s EAB.
“When you see examples of woodpeckering on the tree, you know they’re peeling back the bark to find a good spot to go in and get insect larvae, but woodpeckering on its own doesn’t necessarily indicate emerald ash borer- it could be some other insect they’re after,” she said. “But if you see, for example, woodpeckering, bark splitting, and canopy dieback [dead leaves at the top of the tree], you may have emerald ash borer.”
While the aims of the volunteers were serious, it wasn’t a chore. Some volunteers, like Josh Hunn, a member of the Student Conservation Association of AmeriCorps, were looking forward to getting out in the early spring weather for some exercise and to enjoy the day in addition to helping the community out. “It’s a great way to spend a Saturday, and it’s scary that this thing is going to kill all our ash trees,” he said.
Leslie Surprenant is the director for the Office of Invasive Species Coordination for DEC in Albany, but on Saturday she was there as a resident of Saugerties, concerned about what the EAB infestation means to her community.
“Today is about being proactive, helping this community to understand where all their ash trees are, and then they’ll be able to come up with an estimate on what it’s going to take to take them out,” she said. “They rot quickly, and they become hazard trees, and communities are not ready to address the cost and the labor to remove them.”
Surprenant said the most important message was not to move firewood.
“If you buy firewood and it’s not treated firewood, burn it there, don’t move it all over the place,” she said. “It’d be really easy to move emerald ash borer from Saugerties to North-South Lake Campground that way, and it’s gonna get there eventually, but it doesn’t move that fast on its own. The really important thing is: just don’t move firewood.”
To learn more about EAB, visit catskillcenter.org.
Not sure if you have ash trees on your property? Check out this ash tree identification site.