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Tiny insects put Island trees at risk

by jmaloni

•Taken from the July 11 Island Dispatch

Fri, Jul 11th 2014 04:00 pm

by Alice E. Gerard

The week of July 6 through 12 has been declared Invasive Species Awareness Week in New York state.

That declaration is very timely. The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect species from Asia, was discovered early this year in Grand Island. This insect, smaller than a penny, is putting all of the Island's ash trees at risk.     

The emerald ash borer, a beetle from Asia, was first seen in the United States in 2002, when it began devastating Detroit's ash trees. This invasive insect was likely a stowaway from China, possibly in the early 1990s, traveling on crates that were made from infested green ash trees and sent to the automobile industry, according to a 2009 report to Congress by the U.S. Forest Service. As the emerald ash borer traveled through the Midwest, the northeast, and Canada, it has left behind tens of millions of dead ash trees. The emerald ash borer made its first New York state appearance in the Cattaraugus County town of Randolph in 2009.

The emerald ash borer has been spotted near the Nike Base and on West River Road, just north of Bedell Road, said Patrick Marren, forester with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. He described it as a "small infestation at this point," adding, "We do not know how the borer got there. It is a very capable flyer and could have moved out of other infested areas. It is possible that it was brought in by people, but we don't know exactly how it got there."

The insect's arrival signals disaster for the Island's ash trees, which comprise approximately 35 percent of the Island's trees, said Steve Birtz, a member of Grand Island's Conservation Advisory Board. Many of these are green ash, also known as swamp ash, that tends to grow on low-lying ground. These shade trees, tolerant of moist soil, are common along streams and creeks, and they can reach a height of 60 feet. Marren said, "All of those trees will be at risk, and we anticipate that those trees will be dying if left untreated and unprotected."

About three years ago, the town chose Fix Road as a site for a tree survey to determine the percentage of ash trees on the town's right of way. According to Roy Tilghman, a member of the volunteer team that did the survey, "The problem is that the actual progression of the emerald ash borer takes several years. Trees get weaker and they have brown tops. Most of us don't know how to recognize the symptoms. It will take time before the calamity becomes visible."

One place that the town has many ash trees is in the area between Town Hall and Grand Island Boulevard. Town Supervisor Mary Cooke described the ash trees in this area as a "large stand" and "self-seeders."

"This is an example of a place that will be hit hard," Cooke said. The infestation "is completely deadly within a number of years. Michigan, where the emerald ash borer infestation began, saw a 90 percent loss of ash trees."

According to Marren, the most dangerous stage of the life of the emerald ash borer is the larval stage. The immature insects spend their life under the bark of the tree, feeding on the living tissue. "The rate of decline and the death of the tree are related to pest pressure (how many bugs are in an area)."

Currently, options to protect uninfested ash trees include slowing the spread of the emerald ash borer and treating trees located within close proximity to infested trees. The only method of combating the emerald ash borer that is available on a large scale is the injection of chemicals into the tree. Other, non-chemical methods are being explored. "We do have woodpeckers, which have been foraging upon the larva under the bark of the tree. It's not enough to eliminate the emerald ash borer, but it offers us a better way of identifying infested trees and infested areas. There is work being done through partners in other states using biological control, using parasitic wasps," Marren said. These tiny wasps kill the emerald ash borer by laying eggs, either inside or on top of the emerald ash borer larva.

As a way to slow the spread of the emerald ash borers, Marren asked people not to transport emerald ash borers to uninfested areas. "I want to remind everyone that, with the summer season underway, New York state has firewood regulations, which restrict the movement of untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source. They should especially not move trees that are suspected of containing the emerald ash borer larva because that can lead to the further spread of the insect to uninfested areas. It is important for folks in Grand Island to be aware of what is at stake."

One way to save trees is to have the trees treated with a chemical injected under the bark of the tree, Marren said.

"Anyone who is interested in saving their ash trees needs to begin treatment as soon as possible," Marren said. "Get in touch with a tree service company or an arborist who can help with the application of the chemical treatments." The cost of the chemical depends on the type of the chemical used. The treatment has to be reapplied every year or every other year. "That would be necessary throughout the duration of the emerald ash borer infestation," Marren said.

Cooke commented, "We (the town) were advised, if you have a prominent ash tree that you can't live without, especially for a homeowner, that would be the one to invest in, in terms of injection."

The process of having trees treated to resist the emerald ash borer can be expensive. Some town residents, however, have already arranged to have their trees treated. Bob Eddy, who had five of his trees treated on June 27, said that Tree Services of Western New York injected chemicals into the trunk of the trees.

Eddy, 64, said that he wanted to save five large old trees at his Staley Road property because "these trees add something to the property. If I have them cut down, I'll never see trees like this on my property. It will be another 30-something years before they (new trees) reach this size."

Carolyn Morell and her husband Larry live on West River Road. On July 1, she had Davey Tree inject 10 of the trees with Tree-age (pronounced "triage."). "It cost just under $2,000. This is the best and most expensive insecticide to use," Morell said. "It offers up to 90 percent chance of saving the trees. It is guaranteed to protect trees from the emerald ash borer for up to two years. Then you have to get them injected again."

Morell said, "If we are lucky, our trees will still be standing. It is that important to us. We are here because of the landscape. On the West River, another issue is shade, and the trees are tall and old and beautiful. Why wouldn't you want to protect them? Trees are so important. We feel very connected to all trees."

To reduce the impact of the loss of large numbers of trees, both Birtz and Cooke talked about planting other tree species. Cooke said, "We have younger trees planted." She added that, in the future, the removal of dead trees could be a problem, especially trees near power lines. "We need a plan to get rid of (dead trees)," she said. Birtz said, "What we really should be doing is to start planting some young trees to get them coming so when the ash trees are gone, there will be something to take their place. The problem is that you can't afford to plant eight-foot trees; you have to plant small trees or let trees come up on their own. But if you're mowing everywhere, the trees just can't come up."

Marren suggested that people become "familiar with the signs and symptoms of emerald ash borer attacks and to report new infestations to the DEC. There is a hotline number: 1-866-640-0652. The local DEC office number is 851-7010. They can also consider joining and participating with our local emerald ash borer task force, which is a group of private citizens, businesses, government, and scientists, who are working to expand the knowledge of local emerald ash borer infestations."


Bob Eddy of Grand Island treated his ash trees to resist the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect discovered on the Island. (photo by Alice E. Gerard)

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