On Thursday, Mar. 9, the Environmental Cooperative welcomed New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Lands and Forests Educator Erin Brady and Dr. Gary Lovett from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to the Vassar Farm for a workshop on invasive insects titled, “Saving Our Trees From Forest Pests.” Their talks focused on the emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle identified in 2002 as the source of widespread ash decline and mortality across the United States and Canada.
The Environmental Cooperative Program Manager Jennifer Rubbo said in an email that another project inspired the workshop. She commented, “[The Environmental Cooperative is] currently working on completing a Natural Resources Inventory (NRI) in the City of Poughkeepsie. This project will compile data and information about natural resources and create a series of maps identifying where these natural resources are located … Part of the NRI will be to map and assess ash trees on city streets. Ash trees are currently dying due to the invasive beetle, the emerald ash borer, as well as other forest pests and pathogens.” She continued, “We are working with the City of Poughkeepsie Shade Tree Commission to identify where these trees are, then go out and assess them to see if they have the emerald ash borer. We will also be helping them develop a management plan for these trees, that will give recommendations for replacement … I felt a workshop like this would help us learn about what we are dealing with as well as provide a service for community members that will also be dealing with ash tree dieback in coming years.”
Brady began the workshop by describing the emerald ash borer. Only 7.5 to 11.5 mm long, these bronze, golden or reddish-green insects fit on top of a penny. They arrived in the U.S. at some point during the 1990s and are currently located in 27 states. Females lay about 30 to 60 eggs in their lifetimes and deposit them in crevices or flaps on the trunks or branches of ash trees. When the eggs hatch, the larvae emerge and feed between bark and sapwood, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients until the tree dies.
Brady noted that Vassar is situated in a quarantined area that, while not fully infested now, will be fully infested in the next few years. She explained that when emerald ash borers collect in one area their food sources rapidly diminish, forcing them to feed on neighboring trees. “If you have them in one tree, then you have definitely have them in the one next to it,” she said. “Probably within five miles all the trees are infested.”
You can tell that your trees are invested by tiny larval galleries and exit holes in branches, bark splits that look like patches of dry skin, areas stripped of bark from woodpecker foraging and root and trunk sprouts on green ash. Emerald ash borers target unhealthy trees, so dying branches may also indicate infestation. When your trees are infested, Brady believes that insecticide is the best treatment.
Brady concluded her talk by explaining how individuals can prevent the spread of emerald ash borer. “You can participate in a local EAB task force because it is really important that people stay proactive and management needs to be supported,” she said. “You can report infestations … If you are outside a known restricted zone … [You can] manage the ash on your properties. Remember that it’s cheaper to remove living things than dead trees. I don’t want to encourage people to go out and cut down beautiful, healthy trees, but keep an eye on them. The second you start to see an ash tree fail and you don’t want to treat it, you should probably have it removed rather soon.” She also encouraged people to spread the word about emerald ash borers and to use local firewood.
After Brady spoke, Dr. Gary Lovett took the stage to speak more broadly about forest pests. He began by acknowledging the rapid changes occurring in our local area. “For me, as a forest ecologist, this is a frightening situation,” he said. “If you asked me what the forests are going to look like in the Hudson Valley in 30 years I could not tell you. Things are just changing so fast.”
Lovett went on to describe the negative impact of forest pests. He said that invasive insects alone cause over $4 billion of damage per year. Local governments and homeowners bear the majority of these costs, left with the responsibility of tree removal. Ecologically, Lovett noted that pests lead to species loss and interfere with the carbon and nutrient cycles. In the United States, they have destroyed large amounts of hemlock.
To prevent these negative effects, Lovett suggested that individuals abide by his five treeSMART trade policy actions. Spelling out the acronym SMART, they encourage individuals to 1.) “Switch to non-solid-wood-packaging.” 2.) “Minimize new pest outbreaks by expanding early detection and rapid response programs.” 3.) “Augment new pest prevention programs with key trade partners.” 4.) “Restrict or eliminate imports of live woody plants.” 5.) “Tighten enforcement of penalties for non-compliant shipments.”
The fourth action surprised Rubbo, who had not realized that several plants sold in the U.S. are not locally grown. “I was surprised to hear that many landscaping plants are actually grown in other countries and then imported here,” she said. “Often these are hosts to invasive insects, pathogens, other plants (in the form of seeds). Knowing where your plants are coming from and only buying locally grown plants helps to decrease the market for these imported plants and is a good way to prevent future invasives from coming into the country.”
On the theme of prevention, the workshop concluded with questions and a hike through the Vassar Farm. Brady, Lovett and Rubbo helped attendees identify ash trees, described what the trees would look with emerald ash borer and explained how to report infestations.
Rubbo hopes that Vassar students will help prevent pests in the future. “I think that the most important thing to understand that is that for many of these pests it’s already too late to eradicate them,” she said. “However, we can prevent future infestations and damage. This is what tree-SMART trade is all about and includes federal policies that can make effective changes. Letting our representatives know about the issue and that it is important is probably the most important thing we can do to prevent the spread of future invasive species.”