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St. Lawrence County officials prepare for emerald ash borer invasion

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WADDINGTON — When it comes to the destruction of the north country’s ash trees by the invasive emerald ash borer, it’s a question of not if but when, according to a St. Lawrence County environmental committee.

The glittering green beetle, which is about half an inch long, has moved across the U.S. since it first was found near Detroit, Mich., in 2002. It has since spread to 22 states and two Canadian provinces, killing more than 100 million trees in the process. And it is now closing in on St. Lawrence County.

The St. Lawrence County Environmental Management Council, a 15-member advisory board to the county Board of Legislators, as well as several other organizations, such as Cornell Cooperative Extension, are monitoring the insect’s progression closely.

The bugs have been spotted in Cornwall and Mallorytown, Ontario. They could cross the St. Lawrence River and swarm area ash trees as soon as this season.

“Primarily, it can fly,” St. Lawrence County Environmental Management Council member John F. Tenbusch said. “Its natural rate of progression is about three to five miles per year, but it has been known to fly up to 12 miles. It is very opportunistic. It will hitch rides on vehicles, especially vehicles carrying wood and ash products.”

States are attempting to decrease the spread of the emerald ash borer by placing quarantines on infected areas and not allowing the transport of ash nursery stock, logs or firewood. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has established a quarantine covering the southern and central portions of the state below Interstate 90, and has been placing traps on north country trees for the last few years to detect whether the insects are in the region.

“Firewood and logs or even ground-up wood chips cannot travel over 50 miles, or any debris from infested trees be moved out of the quarantine area,” Cornell Cooperative Extension Horticulture and Natural Resources Educator Paul Hetzler said Friday.

All types of ash trees are at risk, Mr. Hetlzer said.

Ash trees comprise less than 10 percent of the tree canopy in the state, but make up more than 20 percent of the trees in villages and cities, Mr. Tenbusch said.

“What they are looking for is the cambium layer — a thin layer between the bark and actual wood of the tree,” Mr. Hetzler said. “It is a nutrient layer of living cells that is what these creatures will feed on. Larvae tunnel through the cambium layer. They cut off the tree’s circulation and the tree will die.”

As part of its annual Earth Day project, the county Environmental Management Council plans to mark all the ash trees it can find in the village of Waddington.

“We would like to come to Waddington, recruit volunteers,” Mr. Tenbusch said. “Waddington is attractive because it is physically compact and because it has a fair amount of public space that we can use to monitor ash trees. Our intention is, if we see an ash tree on someone’s private property, to go and knock on the door and ask the property owner to let us mark it.”

Village Public Works Superintendent Steve Van Patten estimates that more than 20 ash trees have been planted by the village crews in the last five years.

“Waddington is at special risk” because of its proximity to the river, Mr. Tenbusch said. “Borers can fly across the river, and many trucks use Route 37 for hauling across long distances.”

Volunteers will mark ash trees with ribbons and tags.

“We do intend to leave them there for the long term so that people can see the degree of risk” the community might face, Mr. Tenbusch said.

Recognizing symptoms will be key to saving the trees. Signs of a damaged tree can range from treatable to severe.

“One needs to learn the symptoms and monitor your trees closely,” Mr. Hetzler said. “There is a certain threshold it could go past before it ... cannot be saved.”

Mr. Hetzler said early stages include crown thinning, die-back, sparse branches and bushes growing from the trunk of the tree.

“The next stage would be exit holes in the tree when larvae emerge as an adult in late June or early July,” Mr. Hetzler said. “They leave an eighth-inch hole in the shape of the letter ‘D.’ That is the only insect that will do that.”

Mr. Hetzler said a sign of severe infestation is when hairy or downy woodpeckers are able to chip small, light pieces of bark as they peck ash trees.

“We would like to hear about any of this, especially woodpecker activity,” Mr. Hetzler said. “We take that very seriously.”

Once a tree is infested, it poses a danger to people and structures in its vicinity.

“You have 12 months or less before it just becomes an imminent hazard,” Mr. Hetzler said. Not only does it kill the tree, “it attacks the base of the tree, which can cause it to tip over.”

If an ash tree is damaged, it may be better to plan for eventually taking the tree down rather than waiting for it to become a hazard, Mr. Tenbusch said.

Once the bugs populate a region, it can take five or six years for the population to grow exponentially and get “a little out of control,” Mr. Hetzler said.

“We do recommend that homeowners consider preventive treatment when there is a confirmed emerald ash borer within 10 miles of where you live,” Mr. Hetzler said. “Right now, there are places in St. Lawrence County that are within this 10-mile radius, such as Chippewa Bay.”

Some biocontrols, such as insecticides, can turn around infestation and save a tree that has been attacked if property owners act quickly, Mr. Hetzler said.

But, he said, some insecticides can be expensive.

“People should be strongly considering their options,” Mr. Hetzler said.

One way for property owners to prevent damage to their trees is to keep an eye out, Mr. Tenbusch said.

“Right now there is nothing we can do to stop or eradicate the emerald ash borer,” Mr. Tenbusch said.

If you suspect your ash tree is damaged or infested, or for information about different insecticides, call Cornell Cooperative Extension at 379-9192.

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