Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Emerald Ash Borer in Princeton

Here's a stock photo of the recently arrived insect that will kill (there must be a better word) Princeton's most numerous tree species over the next decade. White ash, green ash, and the much less common black ash--all are vulnerable. The photo shows an ash tree with characteristic "D"-shaped exit holes. It will take a lot more than a penny to deal with the consequences of this diminutive beetle's appetite. I'll expand below, but I sent the quick read version out in a mass email that was then quoted in an informative article in the Town Topics:
"Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) was found in a trap set by the town arborist out along River Road. This small green insect, accidentally introduced to our continent from Asia, probably in wooden packing crates, has been spreading outward from its original introduction in the Detroit area, killing 100s of millions of ash trees. The insect will spread across Princeton over the next few years, eventually affecting all ash trees that haven't been treated. Highly valued ashes can be injected in springtime with an insecticide. The treatment can provide protection for several years. Of the various chemicals available, I've heard the most praise go to Arbor Mectin. Tree-Age has a similar formulation."
The Next Fifteen Years

So, what happens now, and what can we do about it? Princeton's arborist, Lorraine Konopka, sees this slowly evolving catastrophe following a fifteen year arc. In the first five years, EAB will spread around town, building up its numbers with each new generation. Symptoms are slow to manifest, but in various ash trees we'll start seeing dieback starting at the top of the crown and working its way down. Many ash trees are already suffering from ash decline, notably a disease called ash yellows, making it even harder to know for certain when EAB has invaded a particular tree. Homeowners will be forced to choose between spending hundreds of dollars every few years to treat favorite ash trees with systemic insecticide, or spending thousands of dollars later on to remove their dying ash trees before they become brittle and dangerous. The five years that follow will be marked by radical dieoff, both in town and in our nature preserves. Some woodlands where ash trees dominate will be decimated. We'll see otherwise green hillsides dotted with skeletonized remains of ashes. The five years after that, more or less, will see the last untreated ash trees succumb. The population of EAB will drop dramatically, but protected trees will continue needing new injections of insecticide, though potentially less frequently. Ash trees will still be found in nature preserves, but likely get attacked as they grow towards maturity. More on the aftermath at this post, written after a visit to Ann Arbor, MI.

Life Cycle

According to an EmeraldAshBorer.info webpage, the Emerald Ash Borer hatches into an adult in May and June (coincidentally, emergence is said to begin around the time that black locusts bloom), flies to new areas and mates in June and July, then lays its eggs in August. The larvae feed just inside the bark in the fall, then overwinter as pre-pupae before hatching into a new generation of adults the next spring.

So it's not surprising that the first confirmed sighting of an emerald ash borer in Princeton happened in late July, when one was found in a trap placed near River Road by the town arborist. Previous documentations in the area were in Bridgewater, West Windsor and other towns.

Treatment to Protect Ash Trees

Homeowners will need to decide, over the next year or two, which if any ash trees they wish to treat. The expense of recurrent treatments, and the ongoing benefits of the tree, need to be weighed against the cost of removal. This definitive article recommends treatment of trees if EAB has been found within 10-15 miles, which is now the case for Princeton. Treatment is most effective in the spring, between mid-May and mid-June, just after the tree leafs out. The article confirms the superior performance of emamectin benzoate, the active ingredient in Arbor Mectin and TreeAge. This insecticide may be more expensive than others like imidichloprid, but lasts longer and has a higher success rate. For more on my research on this issue, scroll down at this link to "How to save specimen ash trees".

Natural Predators of EAB

Woodpeckers are said to eat 80% of the EAB, but that's not enough to stop it. There are native parasitic wasps that also prey on EAB, but not in sufficient numbers. Some parasitic wasps species from the EAB's native range in Asia are being introduced (hopefully with a great deal of prior testing to show they won't prey on our native insect species), but I doubt they will influence the arc of Princeton's infestation over the next decade.

An article in the NY Times discusses techniques to stimulate the defense systems of ash trees so that the tree itself will manufacture sufficient chemical defenses to ward off EAB, but again, any practical use is highly speculative.

What's a Dead Ash Good For?

Strangely, there seems to have been no planning at any governmental level to at least put the coming surge in dead wood to use. Talk of sustainability and the opposition to fracking and natural gas pipelines are weakened if we ignore local sources of renewable energy. Lacking wind, we need to turn to sunlight. Solar panels, now essentially free to install, are an obvious option, but for some reason wood is being ignored. Europe has clean incinerators that generate energy from wood chips. Ann Arbor trucked its ash trees to an energy-generating facility in Flint. Unlike the carbon from fossil fuels, carbon from trees comes from the atmosphere, not from underground, so there is no net increase in above-ground carbon when wood is burned. Composting requires considerable fossil fuel for turning and transporting the compost, and decomposition releases as much carbon as burning.

In addition, the EAB invasion is coming just as Princeton's collection of loose yardwaste is being expanded. There is no effective incentive yet in place for homeowners to trim their dependence on this costly program, and the addition of 1000s of ash trees to this already over-burdened collection service could overwhelm the capacities of the public works department and local composting sites.

Possibly relevant, the state compiled this list of "Forest Industry Professionals Accepting Ash Trees".

Previous Posts

The Emerald Ash Borer's arrival in Princeton had been long anticipated. Some fifteen posts on this blog mention it, dating back to April, 2010, when I wrote,
"In Princeton, we will over the next decade likely witness a dieoff approaching the scale of the chestnut and elm dieoffs of the 20th century, as the emerald ash borer, which hitch-hiked to Michigan from Asia in wooden packing crates, continues its spread eastward. There will, in other words, be a lot of gaps in the canopy for the chestnut to claim, if its return is successful." 
That last part, about a resurgent American chestnut filling the gaps as we lose our ashes to the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), as the previous post about chestnuts shows, was a nice concept but overly optimistic. Here's a particularly extensive post on EAB, in which I included notes from a phone call with the division chief of Forest Pest Management in Pennsylvania, where they've been dealing with EAB for years.

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