Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Invasive Insects: Checking The Trees for Invaders

Surveying trees for signs and symptoms of invasive insects.Back in November, Tom Colarusso of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service asked me if I would like to join forces to organize and host an invasive insect forest survey workshop.

I thought this was an excellent idea. I whipped-up some posters and sent some promotional emails.  Fourteen concerned land owners and agency professionals came from as far away as Albany and Ray Brook for the workshop held at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District’s office in Lake Pleasant.

After introductions, Tom gave an excellent presentation about how invasive insects can damage forests and impact the economy.  He explained to attendees that invasive insects like the emerald ash borer and the Asian longhorned beetle hail from Asia and hitch a ride to the United States in wood crates and packing materials.  Once here, they can move to new locations via firewood, infested nursery stock, green lumber and other wood products.  Emerald ash borer attacks ash species including white, green, and black.  Host trees for the Asian longhorned beetle include a variety of hardwoods such as maple, elm, willow, and birch.  These invaders threaten the maple syrup, baseball bat, and lumber industries, as well as neighborhood trees and public safety with falling limbs.

Attendees examine wood samples for the characteristic D-shaped exit hole of the emerald ash borer and the large, round exit hole of the Asian longhorned beetle.  Without the checks and balances found on their home turf, Asian longhorned beetle and emerald ash borer rapidly reproduce.  They cause the most damage to trees during their larval stage by eating tissues under the bark, cutting off the tree’s water and nutrient transportation systems.  With a large enough infestation, this girdling eventually kills the tree.

In New York State, emerald ash borer is confirmed in Albany, Cattaraugus, Dutchess, Erie, Genesee, Greene, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orange, Steuben, Tioga, and Ulster counties while Asian longhorned beetle is found in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, Staten Island, and New York City.

After the presentation, we laced up our hiking boots, grabbed our binoculars, and hit the nature trail in search of signs and symptoms of a possible infestation in the woods.  We looked for woodpecker damage, a great initial clue to an insect problem.  We checked for blonding, or light spots on trees where bark had been pecked away.

“I learned that blonding is not just hair coloring!” exclaimed Shirley Smith, a local resident of Hamilton County.  “I found the workshop to be very informative and interesting and I plan to be much more aware of what’s going on with the trees around here.”

Invasive insect forest survey workshop participants.  We also hunted for exit holes that adult invasive beetles left behind after chewing their way out through the bark.  Asian longhorned beetles make round exit holes that are deep enough to stick a pencil in, while emerald ash borers chew small, D-shaped exit holes.  Another sign we were on the lookout for was frass, or wood shaving-like excrement produced by larvae.  Asian longhorned beetle frass is often found at the base of, or in the crotch of an infested tree while emerald ash borer frass is piled inside galleries under the bark.

“This training was an excellent blend of community members and professionals, with significant learning opportunities for all” stated Corrie O’Dea, Natural Resources Planner for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Lands and Forests.

The goal of this invasive insect forest survey workshop was to offer a toolbox that participants can use to search for invaders.  APHIS and District staff can’t be everywhere at once, and invasive insect infestations are often detected by educated landowners, not agency staff.  Stopping invasive species starts with early detection and rapid response.

The video “Invasive Insect Forest Survey, a how-to guide for emerald ash borer and Asian longhorned beetle,” is online.   For more information, visit the USDA’s Hungry Pest website.

Caitlin Stewart

Caitlin Stewart is Conservation Educator at the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District (HCSWCD). One of HCSWCD’s largest programs is their Invasive Species program and Caitlin will be sharing her field experiences, as well as the efforts and results of forest surveys, and monitoring and management.

Caitlin has deep roots in Hamilton County as both her grandparents purchased property on Sacandaga Lake and Lake Pleasant in the 1960s. Her parents met and were married in Lake Pleasant, and she spent summers and vacations there. She’s been a full time resident since 2008 and is an avid hiker, skier, paddler, runner and biker.

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2 Responses

  1. Joe Swaley says:

    I heard great things about this training. Any chance you could do some more of these trainings near the Capitol Region? Nice video too!! J

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  2. Dear Joe,

    Thank you for your comment! I’ll talk to my boss and Tom Colarusso of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to see if we can broaden our horizons to the Capital Region. I will keep you posted!

    All the best,
    Caitlin

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