By Gwendolyn Craig
It appears more than just a few ash trees at the Warren County boat launch in Chester are infected with the emerald ash borer, surveyors are finding.
The Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program (APIPP) and the state Department of Environmental Conservation began checking ash trees within a five-mile radius of the boat launch after the invasive insect was found earlier this month. It was the first known infestation in the Adirondack Park.
“DEC’s survey work has discovered additional suspect sites within a five-mile radius,” an agency spokesperson confirmed this week. “DEC is working to confirm those on the outer edges, some of which are on private property and require landowner consent for investigation.”
It’s good and bad news to find more infected trees, said Tammara Van Ryn, manager of APIPP.
“It’s bad news mostly,” Van Ryn said.
There are no pesticides, as of yet, used in New York to control the ash borer.
The potential bright side? The U.S. Department of Agriculture is experimenting fighting emerald ash borer by releasing a wasp. The wasp would eat or lay its eggs inside the ash borer’s larvae. With enough larvae in the area, the experiment could come to the Adirondacks.
A DEC spokesperson said it “is working with USDA to evaluate candidate sites for biocontrol.”
Charlie Canham, a forest ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, was less optimistic about the effectiveness of the wasp. Canham said when he agreed to an interview with Adirondack Explorer, he thought how he was “going to be depressed again.”
Emerald ash borer is often spread through moving firewood. It is against the law to move untreated New York firewood more than 50 miles. Learn more about the state’s firewood rules at dec.ny.gov/animals/28722.html.
“I don’t have any good news to impart about emerald ash borer,” Canham said. “There’s really nothing.”
On Aug. 19 at the Warren County boat launch on the Schroon River, Van Ryn and Rebecca Bernacki, also with APIPP, examined the sick ash trees a state Department of Transportation worker noticed a few weeks back. Bernacki was the one to come out to the site and confirm emerald ash borer was to blame.
The trees are in the middle of the launch’s parking area. The bark peeled off at the top showed its lighter layer underneath, a process Bernacki called “blonding.” Bark around the base of the trees had either fallen off or been stripped away. It revealed the iconic serpentine pattern the ash borer larvae make when they feed.
Bernacki pointed to larvae inside one of the trees, a creamy off-white parasite wiggling into the ash’s flesh.
When the larvae eat this layer of the tree called the cambium, Bernacki said, they essentially cut off the tree’s circulation system. Photosynthesis stops. The tree puts up a fight, shooting out sprouts and leaves at its base.
“It wants to live,” Van Ryn said about the hopeless ash before her. “It’s really trying to grow out.”
When the adult emerald ash borer exits the ash tree, it leaves behind another tell-tale sign: a D-shaped exit hole. The hole is extremely small, about the diameter of a pencil.
Much more obvious to the human eye is the gaping holes in the ash tree caused by woodpeckers. Van Ryn and Bernacki said woodpeckers love to eat emerald ash borer. Oftentimes there is a boom in the bird’s population after an infestation.
Bernacki estimates the emerald ash borer has been in the area at least 2-3 years. That’s based on the extent of damage in the trees at the boat launch. The insects are swift killers, taking down a whole tree in that amount of time.
With that in mind and the fact that the Adirondack Park is surrounded by counties with emerald ash borer, tree scientists and tree lovers are heartbroken.
“It’s going to be more dramatic than people expect,” Van Ryn said. “It’s definitely going to change the landscape.”