Monday, March 27, 2017

Emerald Ash Borer Threatens St. Lawrence County

Kermit the Frog may have lamented “It’s not easy bein’ green,” but these days, everyone wants to market themselves as “green.” It seems to make us feel good. You might recall how in the early ’90s, lawn-care giant ChemLawn became (unfairly, to be honest) a magnet for public criticism as risks related to pesticide use became more widely known. With the help of some green paint for their trucks, and a pile of trademark lawyers, ChemLawn morphed into TruGreen, and just like that people started to like them better.

If “green” is a hot brand, then “emerald” must be tops. Who doesn’t like the Emerald Isle or the Emerald City, and now the 750lb. Bahia Emerald is on sale for around $400mil if you’re looking for a bargain. So right out of the box, the emerald ash borer (EAB) is ahead in the PR department. Plus, it’s gorgeous: a tiny streamlined beetle sporting a metallic green paint job with copper highlights. This, coupled with the fact that they’re not at the moment raining from the sky like a plague of locusts, may be why it’s hard to take the EAB threat seriously. But I’m betting a little “tea” will let the air out of EAB’s greenwash balloon.

Proximity. Right now, the entire northern shore of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Islands to Cornwall and beyond is heavily infested with the emerald ash borer. Some islands on the Canadian side are infested as well. This puts EAB within a mile — considerably less in some spots — of St. Lawrence County along a roughly 70-mile stretch of its border. Once they emerge in late spring, EAB often fly between 2 and 3 miles to find new egg-laying sites, and research concludes that they are capable of flying nonstop for 20 miles.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s EAB Risk Metric considers areas within 5 miles of an infestation center to be at severe risk of EAB invasion, and anything between 5 and 10 miles at high risk. In other words, according to the NYSDEC, St. Lawrence County residents who live within 9 miles of the Seaway are in a high-risk EAB zone, and those within 4 miles of the river are in a severe-risk EAB zone.

Certainty. While EAB is almost surely here already (typically it takes 5-7 years for symptoms to show up, but after that, tree mortality escalates rapidly), it will get here, period. This is not an “if” situation.

Liability. When an ash tree is killed by EAB, the wood degrades unlike anything we have seen before, with the wood losing five-hundred percent of its shear strength in 12 to 18 months. This is worth repeating: according to the Davey Tree Research Group, an EAB-killed tree undergoes a 500% strength loss in as little as one year. Such trees can collapse under their own weight with no causal factor. Trees on private property, as well as those in public rights-of-way, become hazardous if not removed promptly. If your tree is within striking distance of a sidewalk, road, utility line, or footpath, you may be liable.

Totality. All native ash trees (i.e. those in the genus Fraxinus) not chemically treated will be killed by EAB. End of story; no survivors.

Exorbitancy. Because of the strength-loss phenomenon, removing an infested tree always costs more than taking out a live one, sometimes by an order of magnitude. In many cases, treating an ash which is now in good condition can be cheaper in the long run than removal. However, plans must be made well in advance. It is very important to note that doing nothing is the most expensive option. Personal-injury lawsuits frequently exceed insurance payouts; just a single judgment could bankrupt a town, village, business or individual.

Formed in 2016, the St. Lawrence County Emerald Ash Borer Task Force (EABTF) is a volunteer group composed of local, county and state employees, college and university staff and faculty, tree-care professionals, and other land-management professionals. The goal of the EABTF is to help communities in St. Lawrence County prepare for the impending EAB infestation.

Community needs include quantifying the ash trees for which they are responsible; identifying alternatives for treatment and removal; and selecting the options that best match their needs and budgets. In addition, the EABTF wants to help coordinate equipment-sharing and dumpsite consolidation, and facilitate ash treatment and removal group bids in order to secure the lowest prices, and to streamline logistics in general. It is also committed to educating the public about EAB and how to best prepare for it.

The St. Lawrence County Emerald Ash Borer Task Force is looking for citizen volunteers to help their communities conduct tree inventories between September 2017 and October 2018. A day-long training is required before field work can begin, and the task force will provide field supervision as needed, and will be available to answer any questions that may arise. If you, or your civic, church, school or professional group would like more information on this, email Paul Hetzler at or John Tenbusch at

To read more about the NYSDEC’s EAB Risk Metric, click on “Emerald Ash Borer Management Response Plan” on DEC’s website.

Photo: Emerald Ash Borer, courtesy DEC.

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Paul Hetzler has been an ISA Certified Arborist since 1996. His work has appeared in the medical journal The Lancet, as well as Highlights for Children Magazine.You can read more of his work at or by picking up a copy of his book Shady Characters: Plant Vampires, Caterpillar Soup, Leprechaun Trees and Other Hilarities of the Natural World

12 Responses

  1. James Zeele says:

    It is impossible to lose 500% of its strength. This is worth repeating: It is impossible to lose 500% of its strength. Losing 100% of strength means that it is left with absolutely zero strength. It cannot lose more than that.

    • Pete Nelson says:

      Well, not exactly. It depends. Speaking mathematically, there are two possibilities for losing more than 100%. One possibility is that the strength scale doesn’t have an absolute zero. Perhaps the strength scale in question sets a zero as some average strength. The second possibility is if the basis is relative, for example the strength scale is itself a percent of something else.

      The other possibility, a frequent mistake, is that the Davey Group meant strength decreases by a “factor of five.” Often that is equated with a loss of “500%”, but of course it is not at all the same.
      It depends upon the scale. If the strength scale allows negatives then

    • Boreas says:

      “It is impossible to lose 500% of its strength. This is worth repeating: It is impossible to lose 500% of its strength. Losing 100% of strength means that it is left with absolutely zero strength. It cannot lose more than that.”

      I disagree. I lose 100% of my strength every year…

  2. Bill Ott says:

    Very enjoyable reading. I kind of wondered what happened to ChemLawn. I must agree with Mr Zeele above, because if I lost 500% of my money, I would be very poor indeed.

    Other than that, is the treatment permanent? If it is, does the cure pass to the tree’s “offspring”? I would doubt it. Is the overall plan to save some trees now with the expectation that all untreated trees will die? And lastly, can the Borer survive without the host trees? I guess I am looking for even the dimmest light at the end of the tunnel.

  3. Smitty says:

    Where I live in PA, the emerald ash borer went through with lightening speed, killing all the ash trees within two years. With all these imported pests from the far East (wooly adelgid, long horn beetles) I fear for what will be left of the forest. Perhaps the import of all wood products, including shipping pallets, should be banned. Would this help prevent future infestations?

  4. Boreas says:

    Another terrible situation. As a boy wandering the PA woods with my dad, he would point out giant Am. Chestnut stumps he remembered as trees when he was young. I always felt robbed of these majestic trees. Then I witnessed the Am. Elm die-off. Another tragic loss. Now hemlocks and ashes. White-nose disease. Maybe global trade is not such a good idea if we trade non-native diseases as easily as goods and cash.

    I wonder if our best option to preserve the ashes would be to log as many as possible (while their wood has some worth) in advance of the EAB and plant seedlings in their place. Basically, set a fire line so the EAB has nothing to feed on. Have they been known to jump genus if they run out of ashes?

    But of course, this would only last until they are introduced again, which is a virtual certainty. Perhaps genetically altering EAB in their native range would be an option.

  5. Wow, interesting comments.
    James, I have signed up for a remedial math class–I should have said strength decreases by a factor of five, as Pete suggested (the wording was mine, not a quote from Davey, alas..). Mea culpa.
    Bill, depending on the chemical used and the pest pressure, treatments will have to be done every 1, 2, or 3 years. There is eventual light at the end in the form of biocontrols, but I am told this is several decades off yet.
    Smitty, I agree. Banning solid-wood packing material is a MUST. The current requirements to treat pallets have been flouted to the point where an ALB was found last year emerging from a pallet marked “heat treated.”

  6. Taras says:

    Thanks for the interesting article!

    The presence of Emerald Ash Borer was reported in our community (Beaconsfield, a suburb of Montreal, population ~18,000) in 2015. The city acted quickly to create an inventory of all ash trees, on public and private property, and notify all property owners of their responsibilities. The town treated and tagged all trees located in parks and other public spaces.

    I have no ash trees on my property but a few of my neighbors have several. My neighbor across the street has at least a dozen on his land. I can tell you that this infestation, and its associated costs, was an unpleasant surprise!

    You can treat each tree with TreeAzin, every 2 years, with no guarantee of success. Or simply fell the tree and then replace it with another species (our community requires replacement of felled trees). Either way, it’s a significant unforeseen expense!

    The current rate for TreeAzin treatment is CDN$3.88 per centimeter of tree-diameter. If I got my math right, that’s about US$7.50 per inch of tree-diameter. Multiply that by a dozen trees, every two years, and you have good reason to be unhappy about invasive species.

  7. Geogymn says:

    My brother who lives in Otsego County and owns a sizable piece of land had the Amish log his land of just Ash trees about 4 years ago. He wasn’t taken any chances.
    Its tough to walk in the woods these days between the disease and the invasives. The more you know, the more you see, and the more you fret.

  8. Charlie S says:

    Such a beautiful critter! Yet all of the damage it does. We introduced this killer due to our business nature which is all about money, money, money. If (once again) we had vision we would have regulated the imports that brought this bug in. Our lack of ability to regulate where regulation is needed will never surpass our desire to keep the economy rolling….all so that a few people can get rich while the rest of us hang on by a thread, while the planet goes to ruin right under our noses. And now we have an administration loaded with arrogant rich (rich monetarily, poor spiritually) ideologues who are hard bent on deregulation which will unfortunately bring us right back to the caveman days at the expense of most of us and this wee orb in space that sustains us.

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