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Ash trees — protecting and preserving the species

January 5, 2011

The emerald ash borer is a half-inch long invasive insect; a native of northeastern China, North and South Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Presence of the emerald ash borer has also been reported in Mongolia and adjoining areas of Russia. It is believed to have made its way to the United States from Asia on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in Asia.

The emerald ash borer was first discovered in the United States in 2002 near Detroit, Mich. In that same year, it was also found across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Since that discovery, the emerald ash borer has been responsible for the destruction of more than 40 million ash trees in southeastern Michigan - and more than 70 million ash trees in the U.S.

The beetle has been moving steadily outward from its first discovered infestation in Detroit, Mich. The primary way this insect extends its range is by movement of firewood and wood products from one place to another.

Since the 2002 discovery of emerald ash borer in the metro Detroit area, the insect has been discovered in Ohio in 2003, northern Indiana in 2004, northern Illinois and Maryland in 2006, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia in 2007, Wisconsin, Missouri and Virginia in the summer of 2008, and Minnesota, New York, Kentucky and Quebec in the spring of 2009. New York state has been actively surveying for EAB since 2003, inspecting declining ash trees, looking for signs and symptoms of emerald ash borer activity, and setting traps; those purple triangular devices you've more than likely seen hanging in roadside trees during the summer months; throughout the state.

Symptoms of emerald ash borer infestation include dieback of the upper and outer crown, epicormic sprouting at the base and/or on the main stem of the tree, vertical splits in the bark and woodpeckers feeding. Signs of emerald ash borer infestation include D-shaped emergence holes, S-shaped larval galleries, and of course, the insect itself; larvae, adults or both.

New York has more than 900 million ash trees, representing about 7 or 8 percent of all trees in the state and all are at risk. Emerald ash borer infestations have been confirmed in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Monroe, Genesee, Livingston, Steuben, and Greene Counties, and at 13 separate locations in Ulster County. Research indicates that healthy ash stands, once infested, can reach nearly 100 percent mortality of trees greater than 1 inch in diameter within six years. During the first few years, ash decline is very slow and symptoms are not obvious. Later in the infestation, ash mortality accelerates rapidly.

Currently, many states are attempting to eradicate emerald ash borer infestations by quarantining areas and destroying ash trees within the quarantine perimeter. In an effort to limit the potential introduction of emerald ash borer to other areas of New York state, the Department of Environmental Conservation has established quarantines restricting the movement of ash trees including nursery stock, and ash wood products in 18 counties. The quarantined zone now includes most of western New York, as well as Greene and Ulster Counties in the Catskills region. In addition, the movement of firewood from all tree species is limited everywhere in New York state to a distance of not more than 50 miles. As of June of last year, six Pennsylvania counties were under emerald ash borer quarantine. At this time, 43 Pennsylvania counties (an area that roughly encompasses the western two-thirds of the state) and 50 Ohio counties are under quarantine.

In the spring of 2005, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the USDA Rose Lake Plant Materials Center in East Lansing, Michigan, launched the National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative; in essence, a plan for the worst-case scenario. Under the Initiative, ash tree seed will be held in long-term storage in cryogenic vaults, at the USDA National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation, formerly the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado. NCGRP is a repository for plant genetic resources in the form of graftable buds or in vitro plantlets and for animal genetic resources in the form of semen. Due to rising concerns that it may be too late to contain the emerald ash borer and the real possibility that all of America's ash trees could be lost, and their genetic diversity along with them, the Plant Materials Center is asking volunteers to collect seed from ash trees, in order to create a genetic base that will eventually be used for the re-establishment of populations of all ash tree species, throughout their native range, ultimately returning the ash tree to the American landscape.

The National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative is a long-term project that depends on volunteers. If you would like to learn more about the initiative or would like to participate in the location and collection of ash seeds, please contact your local NRCS office or visit online.

If you detect emerald ash borers or damage caused by their presence, please contact your county Cornell Cooperative Extension office or your regional DEC office or call DEC at 1-866-640-0562 or 518-402-9425.



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