Ash lovers

Ash lovers rally defenses against borer

Media Contact
Published: November 8, 2010, 12:00 AM

An insect that fits on a penny has sent local governments and homeowners scrambling for ways to protect their trees from malnourishment and death.
“If the ash tree is the centerpiece of your landscape, you probably want to start [injecting trees],” said Jeremy Sayers, a Clarence arborist. “Preventative treatment is the only way it stays [healthy]. This insect is sneaky.”

Since the emerald ash borer was discovered in Randolph in June 2009, it has been hard to track, surfacing in counties previously thought to be safe. It is now confirmed in Cattaraugus, Livingston, Steuben, Greene, Ulster and, most recently, Genesee and Monroe counties.

Ash trees make up just 7 percent of all New York trees, but state officials say all 900 million of the beloved backyard centerpieces are at risk of destruction.

Local municipalities, therefore, are acting now.

The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy held a seminar in August on detecting, identifying and reporting the beetlelike creature, first detected in the United States in 2002 and since spreading to 14 states.

Williamsville Trustee Brian J. Geary estimated that as many as 30 percent of the village’s tree canopy might be at risk. The Village Tree Board, he said, has developed one of the region’s most aggressive plans to combat the insect.

The village is conducting an inventory of all trees on public property and plans to hire a company to inject an insect control solution directly into the trunks of the trees.

Because the village has so many trees, it may be able to get a discount. The injections typically cost $100 to $150, but Geary said removing the trees after infection could cost $500 to $700.

While other towns are busy deciding whether they can develop or afford comprehensive plans to combat the insect, private homeowners have started taking the matter into their own hands.

Sayers, who is president of the company Tree Doctor, has been hired to inject the solution into trees in yards in Williamsville, Amherst, Clarence, Niagara Falls, Grand Island, Orchard Park and East Rochester.

He said he recommends treatment to homeowners whose trees lie within 10 to 15 miles of a confirmed infestation, though some homeowners opt to get the injections sooner.

“If you’re trying to treat after the tree is infected, you’re trying to inject chemicals into a vascular system that is infected,” Sayers said. “In every case reporting the insect is in the area for years already, the damage is done.”

Injections can protect the tree for two years, Sayers said, though Geary added that some trees that were injected five years ago are still healthy. With no outward signs of the treatment’s effectiveness, residents, he said, must rely on university studies.

“The ultimate test will be once trees start dying in neighborhoods and the treated trees still stand, full of leaves, and don’t have dead branches,” he said.

Trees should be injected not as a long-term solution, but as a short-term fix to stave off elimination, said Mark Whitmore of Cornell University’s natural resources department. Treating trees more than 10 or 15 miles away from confirmed infestations, he says, is a “waste of money.”

Whitmore, who serves on a state scientific advisory panel, pointed to Midwestern communities that have conceded that all of their ash trees will need to be replaced and have started planning their replacements in an organized manner.

In April, the Town of Amherst agreed to hire an arborist to conduct a sample study that would begin the town’s first inventory in anticipation of decimation.

“It’s not skipping anybody; it’s just a matter of where it’s been located,” Whitmore said. “For every penny we spend to slow it down, we’re buying time for communities to plant. Every penny we spend now will be repaid many times over.”

He said he believes Western New York residents will do whatever they can to save their trees.

“People love their trees,” he said.