October 23, 2021

Bracing for the ash borer

Loggers cutting down trees now to help stop spread of invasive beetle

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Part of a felled ash tree and its stump is shown Feb. 5 at Dwyer Park in Little York.

Loggers are trying to get ahead of the Emerald ash borer as it continues to make its way across the nation and New York, sapping the environment of its ash trees.

Last week, loggers in Delaware County rushed to cut down ash in an attempt to stay one step ahead of the beetle. At the beginning of February, Cortland County began logging ash trees out of Dwyer Park in Preble to help stop the spread of the ash borer.

Now is the time for people to start thinking about trimming or even removing ash trees from their properties, said Brett Chedzoy, a regional forester for Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Removing the trees safely now means they won’t be a hazard when they die. Chedzoy said ash trees lose tensile strength after they are dead.

“It’s very wise and prudent to deal with it before it comes down on a house, a car or a person,” he said.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has yet to confirm that the beetle is in Cortland or Chenango counties.

“If not, it’s surrounded on every side,” Chedzoy said.

It’s true. The beetle has been confirmed in other Central New York counties including Onondaga, Tompkins, Tioga, Broome and Madison, according to the DEC.

In 2017, Cortland County joined a group of counties across the state to form a restricted zone to slow the spread of the ash borer.

“Emerald ash borer is probably the most thorough killing machine that we’ve come across in my career over the last 35 years,” said Tom Gerow, general manager for The Wagner Companies, which specializes in furniture-grade lumber.

Wagner is sawing ash at its Owego mill at about double the rate it used to. And out in the woods, there’s often no reason to follow the common practice of leaving trees behind to regenerate the forest.

“When we’re harvesting a stand that has ash in it and you know it’s imminent that the ash borer is going to be there, we tend to cut all of the ash,” Gerow said.

Chedzoy, who lives and works in Schuyler County, said last spring the Emerald ash borer was reported 20 miles away from him. But almost overnight, signs appeared everywhere.

The insect was first discovered in southeastern Michigan in 2002, according to the DEC. By last October, it was reported in 35 states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba, according to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network.

The insect was first confirmed in New York in June 2009.

The bug, no bigger than a penny, enters ash trees and slowly infests it. Signs of infection include tree canopy dieback, yellowing and browning of leaves, according to the DEC. Most trees die within two to four years of becoming infested.

Throughout the state, ash trees make up around 7 percent of the forest biomass, Chedzoy said. “Which is huge,” he added.

The tree is in the top five species in the state’s forests.

People looking to replace their ash trees should do their homework, Chedzoy said. First, check which trees don’t have a known threat. Next, if one decides to plant more than one tree, think about planting multiple species.

Before people decide to replace or plant trees they should reach out to a local expert. Those in Cortland include master gardener volunteers from Cornell Cooperative Extension, Chedzoy said.

Chedzoy does suggest planting native trees. “My personal observation over the last 30 years is native trees have fewer pest issues,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.