Fort Drum hopes to protect ash trees from invasive insect
August 7, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Fort Drum environmental officials have enlisted the help of civilian conservationist groups to defend against an invasive insect that is ravaging backyards and countrysides from the Midwest all the way to northeastern Canada.
The installation partnered last week with the St. Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario - Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO-PRISM) to tag ash trees in Fort Drum housing areas to help raise awareness of the emerald ash borer.
The invasive bug, a small metallic green beetle first detected in the U.S. in 2002, destroys ash trees to an extent much greater than Dutch elm disease and rivaling the blight that killed several billion chestnut trees in the early 1900s.
"They basically eat all of the live tissue inside of the tree and kill it," said Travis Ganter, a soil conservationist and forester with the post's Natural Resources Branch.
The emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees in nearly 20 states. Although the flying insect has not yet been spotted near Fort Drum, its devastation has been felt in 15 New York counties since its first detection in 2009, according to Shelby Alavekios, SLELO-PRISM outreach coordinator.
Noting it's her organization's first tagging on Fort Drum, Alavekios said there is no evidence of the emerald ash borer's presence in any of the five counties she represents -- St. Lawrence, Oswego, Oneida, Jefferson and Lewis.
"It's not here," she said. "We don't want it to get here."
Ganter, who also deals with more than a dozen invasive plants on post, including the black and pale swallow-wort, Japanese knotweed and oriental bittersweet, said safety would be his biggest concern if ever dealing with an emerald ash borer infestation at Fort Drum, since dead ash trees in housing or range areas could crumble or easily lose limbs.
The New York State Environmental Protection Fund supports SLELO-PRISM in partnership with the
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to help stop the spread of invasive species.
In addition to reaching out to SLELO-PRISM, Ganter said Fort Drum's Environmental Division seeks community participation.
"Early detection and rapid response is (critical)," he said, pointing out that members of the community who suspect the insect's appearance on post can call the state DEC hotline at (866) 640-0652 or visit www.dec.ny.gov and search "emerald ash borer."
Alavekios said the best way to detect the presence of the emerald ash borer is identifying S-shaped grooves beneath ash tree bark where larvae create feeding galleries through serpentine motions.
Another sign of infection are D-shaped exit holes on the bark where larvae burrow out from feeding.
Ganter said the ash tree's scent attracts the female emerald ash borer to deposit her eggs. The bug's larvae grow just under the bark, eat the cambium and choke the tree of all nutrients.
The trees usually die several years after infestation.
The sturdy wood from ash trees, which can live as long as several hundred years, is used for everything from furniture and hardwood floors to baseball bats and guitars. Ash also is an excellent source of firewood.
Ganter explained that the state DEC has roughly the entire southern half of the state under quarantine.
"You cannot move wood in and out without it being treated or processed in some way," he said. "That's state regulation.
"That's how this pest is moving from place to place -- through firewood," he added. "Even in the counties where it's not located, there's a restriction on moving firewood less than 50 miles."
New York's nearly 1 billion ash trees are a large component of its natural ecosystems, accounting for about 7 percent of the state's forestlands, Alavekios noted.
Ash trees also are a significant contributor to the state's economy.
"If we are removing an entire species from our forests, we don't know how that's going to affect industry," she said.
"It's (also) going to affect our beautiful streets," Alavekios added, pointing out that, like elm trees were 100 years ago, ash are excellent "street trees."