Emerald ash borer spreads through region

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NISKAYUNA — The invasive emerald ash borer has continued its tear through Schenectady County and the state, leaving municipalities and landowners with difficult and pricey decisions.

In Niskayuna, officials first learned that the destructive beetle had been spotted in a small pocket of the town during an informational session hosted by the state Department of Environmental Conservation about 18 months ago.

Last week, town officials learned that all of Niskayuna is or will experience infestation, and that within a decade’s time, all of the ash trees in the Capital Region will have been or will need to be removed.

“We were shocked,” said Laura Robertson, Niskayuna town planner.

DEC officials are also alarmed at the scope of the infestation.

“I would call it extremely significant,” said Jason Denham, a DEC specialist in forest insects and diseases.

According to the DEC, there are a few hundred thousand ash trees in Schenectady County. The infection statewide is as severe as Dutch elm disease which wiped out more than 59 million elm trees in the United States between the 1930s and 1989. Between 1904 and 1950, 99.9 percent of all American Chestnut trees were killed by a fungal blight.

The ash tree is one of the most common trees in New York, but it does not often grow in large stands. Rather, the trees are scattered throughout wooded areas.

Denham said there are ways to protect ash trees, but such measures require money and time.

“Systemic reapplication [of pesticides] is required,” Denham said. “You can’t broadcast spray. Pesticides are applied to the bark or injected.”

He went on to say professional companies are usually required to apply the pesticides, meaning town employees wouldn’t be able to do the work.

Denham said that, while some towns and cities have sought to save their ash trees, most municipalities and homeowners find it less expensive to simply remove them, whether they’re infected or not.

“We recommend proactive action, like treating or pre-emptively removing the ash trees,” Denham said. “A dead tree is at greater risk of falling and causing damage to property.”

Whether protection or removal is chosen as a solution, the trees must first be identified. It may be simple enough for a property owner to know how many ash trees are on his or her property, but for large area like a town, a tree inventory must be taken. This can cost thousands of dollars.

Niskayuna has applied for a DEC Urban Forestry grant that would, among other things, fund such an inventory. The DEC is months behind on announcing grant recipients.

Not only does the infestation of the emerald ash borer mean that otherwise healthy trees may need to be cut down, but great care has to be taken in disposing of the trees once they’re removed.

To prevent the invasive species’ spread, much of New York state is under a quarantine that prohibits transporting felled ash trees beyond a DEC-defined quarantine zone.

Also, if a tree is cut up for firewood, it cannot be transported more than 50 miles, in accordance with firewood regulations.

“We would encourage people to burn the wood on site,” where it is allowed and in accordance with local open-burn laws, Denham said.

He went on to note that municipalities can transport felled trees to chipping facilities within the quarantine zone, especially if the tree is chipped as small as 1-inch-by-1-inch.

“The larvae won’t survive the chipping process at that size,” Denham said.

Removal of ash trees is the responsibility of landowners. At present, more state aid dollars are available for municipalities than for private owners.

As the beetles continue to spread and infect trees, Denham urged the public to consult the DEC website for symptoms of infestation and to report infected trees to the DEC. Other information is available on the department’s website, including the borders of the quarantine area and information and regulations related to moving firewood and ash trees.