2017-02-15 / Gardening Tips

EAB Update by Bob Beyfuss

EAB stands for Emerald Ash Borer, an insect pest that has been killing thousands and thousands of ash trees in N.Y. State and elsewhere and which is likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. If EAB is not affecting your neighborhood yet, it surely will be soon. The Capital District/Hudson Valley region is almost entirely within the area where the insects are well established. All species of ash trees are attacked and at all ages. The damage is particularly evident in urban areas where block after block of intentionally planted green ash trees are dead or dying, causing a huge expense for cash strapped municipalities to remove and replace them.

I recall when my hometown of Jersey City suffered a similar fate in the 1960s as all of the elm trees that lined the streets succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. There is a lesson to be learned here that we should have learned 50 years ago. When communities are being “planned” it is crucial to plant a diverse group of trees and not just one or two or even three species. Outbreaks such as this one are unpredictable except for the fact that they will occur, sooner or later, eventually. It is not so much a question of “if” so much as a question of “when.” When urban communities lose their street trees, part of our connection to nature is lost too and that is not a good thing.

For Diagnosis, Call the Tree Doctor!

A single ash tree dying in your yard may or may not be caused by EAB. Ash trees die for a variety of different reasons, but rarely are only one or only a few trees involved when EAB is the culprit. Your local office of Cornell Cooperative Extension can inform you as to the status of EAB in your neighborhood. Infestations begin with a gradual loss of vigor of the tree. There may be one or several dead branches in the crown and this pattern will gradually progress as thousands of EAB beetles tunnel beneath the bark, interrupting the transfer of water and nutrients from leaves to roots and vice versa. There will be lots of characteristic “D” shaped exit holes in the bark, which are about the diameter of a pencil. Adult EAB beetles emerge from these holes and fly to infest other trees. A pretty sure sign of EAB infestation is the activity of pileated woodpeckers tearing off the bark to get at the beetle larvae beneath it. By the time this is evident, it is too late to save the tree.

Individual trees can be treated to prevent infection by an arborist, but this is a pretty expensive procedure. Still, for some very important landscape trees, the loss of the tree and its value to the property may outweigh the cost of treatment. Badly infested trees generally cannot be saved in most circumstances.

Government Compensation? Don’t Hold Your Breath!

Currently, there are two bills circulating in the state legislature that would provide financial compensation for the costs of removal of dead trees or the cost of protecting trees. Frankly, I see little chance of either bill passing since the cost of each could be staggering, considering how many millions of ash trees there are in New York State.

Ash trees, of course, are what major league baseball bats are made of and no other tree species seem to offer a suitable alternative. Some baseball bats these days are made from sugar maple, but these are the bats that sometimes shatter and the flying debris can and has injured players and even spectators sometimes. Other hardwoods have been tried, but none seem have the same characteristics as ash. Hopefully there will be enough surviving ash trees in the United States and elsewhere to keep major league baseball supplied for the rest of my life. I don’t think I could watch or listen to baseball games if the sound of a well hit “crack” was replaced by the artificial sound of an aluminum bat’s “clink”.

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