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They are dying all around us

by WayneTimes.com
July 23, 2022

The public became startlingly aware of the deaths, as agencies and municipalities began ringing the alarm. The long ago pictures of statuesque, tree lined streets, large and small forest  areas providing wildlife and soothing wind through acres of limbs, was changing...and changing drastically.

Tiny insect invaders  began threatening to wreak havoc on New York’s forests. Two wood-boring insects, the sirex woodwasp and the emerald ash borer, have been spotted throughout New York State.

There have been myriad tree invaders over the decades, all taking a bite out of our Wayne County and New York State trees.

In truth, the problem started generations ago with the introduction of the small shipping freight stowaways. The most notable - the emerald ash borer. Native to Asia and first noticed in the U.S. in 2002, the Emerald ash borer is a non-native insect spreading rapidly through human transport of infested wood in firewood and ash nursery stock.

Larvae feed in the cambium layer just below the bark, disrupting the transport of water and nutrients into the crown and killing the tree often within a few years. By 2019 the insect had spread like wildfire throughout the state.

The wood-boring wasp, the sirex woodwasp is a devastating pest of pine trees, native to Europe and Asia and was noted in New York State in 2005. Their wood boring grubs emanate from the wasp’s eggs and weaken and infect the trees with a fungus.

But wait! In the summer of 2021, elevated populations of spongy moth caterpillars caused noticeable leaf damage across New York State. The spongy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) is a non-native insect from France. In New York, spongy moth caterpillars are known to feed on the leaves of a large variety of trees such as oak, maple, apple, crabapple, hickory, basswood, aspen, willow, birch, pine, spruce, hemlock, and more. Oak is their preferred species. Spongy moths have “naturalized” in our forest communities and so they will always be around with cyclical outbreaks with  populations to rise and fall in cycles of roughly 10-15 years.

Then there are the Spotted lanternfly (SLF), an invasive pest from Asia that primarily feeds on tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) but can also feed on a wide variety of plants such as grapevine, hops, maple, walnut, fruit trees and others. This insect could impact New York’s forests as well as the agricultural and tourism industries.

Southern pine beetle (SPB) is a bark beetle that infests pine trees. The beetle is small, only 2-4 mm in length (about the size of a grain of rice) and is red-brown to black in color.

This insect is native to the southeastern United States but has been expanding its range up the east coast in recent years. Warming of extreme winter temperatures has most likely contributed to this expansion.

To landowners and homeowners alike, decisions were often made based upon financial concerns. Yes, the dead and dying trees were both obtrusive and perhaps even a danger in the long run, but the cost of removal of stands of trees was often prohibitive.

Tree folk were promoting costs of $200 to $400, or more, depending on size and location. Homeowners could anticipate bills of thousands of dollars.

Municipalities were faced with   changing attitudes: either cut down diseased trees and plant hardier woods, or charge ahead with very expensive treatments in hope of saving decades-old trees.

Wayne County Public Works Director Kevin Rooney said his people have had to deal with “thousands of them”. “It seems like they went right down the canal. Our lakeshore doesn’t have as many. We will get a call from someone using the canal trail about a tree down and handle it.” Rooney’s department also clears the dead trees out of county parks.

Rooney indicated that usually in November a tree crew will go out and handle any trees in county road right-of-ways, marked at 25 feet from the center of the road. “If we see a tree hanging off a home property I will knock on the door and alert the homeowner of a dangerous tree, but that is all we can do on private property.”

Trees near power lines require contracting with private tree removal companies. Last year the County Public Works spent $30,000 on trees cut by certified vendors near power lines, with Rooney’s crew removing the cut debris to save on costs.

The Gananda development, encompassing the towns of both Walworth and Macedon has been in the clutch of plagues with ash tree deaths. The two towns, along with Palmyra, split the use of a bucket truck to address tree removal. Again, the right-of-way is usually defined as 25 feet from the center line of the roadway.

Jim Lemay from the Walworth Highway Department said tree removal has to be worked in with the day-to-day standard work schedules. “We have taken down quite a few of the ash trees in the Gananda area when homeowners contact us. We often have a week’s worth of tree cutting alone.” He said it may be well over a month before the Walworth crews can get back to tree removal.

The latest invader, Beech Leaf Disease (BLD), which affects all species of beech trees, was identified in 35 counties in New York State to date. DEC began tracking BLD in 2018 after it was confirmed in Chautauqua County. Fourteen of the counties with BLD were confirmed in 2022, and more are likely to be identified.

“Many American beech trees are already heavily impacted by beech bark disease, but Beech Leaf Disease appears to be an even bigger threat,” said DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos. “The decline of beech in New York could have far-reaching consequences, including significant changes to the composition of our northern hardwood forests and the loss of a valuable food source for wildlife. Beech Leaf Disease affects all beech, so the impacts would also be felt in our urban forests where ornamental beech trees, including the popular copper beech cultivar, are widely used for landscaping and street trees.”

Much is still unknown about BLD, including how it spreads, but it can kill mature beech trees in six to 10 years and saplings in as little as two years. There is no known treatment for infected trees. BLD symptoms are associated with the nematode Litylenchus crenatae mccannii. It is unknown whether the nematode causes all of the damage, or if it is in association with another pathogen such as a virus, bacteria, or fungus.

The DEC is working with the Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, the...

CONTINUED ON PAGE A3

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