When digging for treasure, X usually marks the spot. But for ash trees along the Saugerties Beach on the Esopus Creek, a white X in spray paint means death. Three grand old trees will be cut down by Central Hudson this week because they’re infested with the emerald ash borer, an iridescent Asian beetle scientists expect will eventually destroy all North American ash trees not inoculated with expensive pesticides.
The borers were first discovered in Ulster County in 2010 on a West Saugerties campground. Saugerties has already cut down and burned eight trees found at the village’s Seamon Park and the 187-acre Esopus Bend Preserve. George Terpening, village of Saugerties superintendent of Parks, Buildings and Grounds, said three trees along the beach would be cut down and burned next week, with the assistance of Central Hudson.
“The three are located near Central Hudson’s power lines and they said they would come in and take them down for us,” Terpening said.
The ash borer is an Asian beetle first discovered in the United States in 2002 in southeastern Michigan and north in Windsor, Ontario. It’s native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
While unsure of exactly how the beetle made it into the states, scientists believe that it “traveled in ash wood used for stabilizing cargo in ships or for packing consumer product,” according to the DEC.
The beetle loves ash trees, and it is its larvae stage that does all the damage, feeding under the bark of the trees, which cuts off the trees’ flow of water and nutrients. Trees usually die within two to four years after infestation.
A fully grown beetle doesn’t fly very far, about ½ mile from the tree where they grew up, so the DEC thinks they got into New York State and the 14 other states that suffer from EAB infestation through the transportation of firewood or through young trees destined for nurseries.
In New York State, EABs have been found in a number of counties including Ulster, Orange, and Greene and a number of counties in the western and northern parts of the state.
Last year, the village conducted an inventory of its trees to identify how many ash trees there are, but it has yet to be completed, and a hoped-for plan on how to deal with the beetles has yet to be worked out. Until then, Terpening and his crew are doing it “one tree at a time.”
Based on the current rate of infestation in Saugerties and New York State, Terpening doesn’t hold out much hope for the future of the North American Ash tree, saying he doesn’t expect to see many ash trees in five years.
He says that he believes the way that Dutch elm disease wiped out Elm trees during the 1950s, the Emerald Ash Borer might bring the same fate to ash trees.
For more information about the emerald ash borer, visit the village’s website at www.village,saugerties.ny.us, where there is a phone number to report infested trees to, or go to the state DEC’s website at www.dec.ny.gov where there is information on the state’s attempts through a ban on firewood transportation to halt the spread of the deadly beetle.