Three weeks ago we warned you that the emerald ash borer is on its way, and there is nothing to stop it (see the July 13 Syracuse New Times cover story “Green Monster”). Now Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, in conjunction with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), is approaching Syracuse residents about the coming insect infestation that has ash trees in its sights.
“The reality is that most people don’t even know what an ash tree looks like,” said Jessi Lyons, team coordinator for the environmental program at Cornell Cooperative Extension. “We have the ability through our forestry program to do residential forestry outreach throughout the city with the goal to get out and inform the public if they have ash trees on their property and what their options are when the emerald ash borer finally arrives.”
While ash trees comprise nearly 7 percent of the urban canopy, that number includes only trees on city property. “These are street trees,” Lyons added, “it’s not a ton but it’s a good number, but they also tend to be very mature trees. We have a higher prevalence of ash in back yards and on people’s private property, and we don’t have a number for those trees.”
City arborist Steve Harris said that the total estimated population of ash trees in Syracuse, both public and private, is 6,000, according to a U.S. Forest Service survey.
Lyons and her team have been visiting city neighborhoods since early July, identifying ash trees, knocking on residents’ doors if they spy an ash in a private yard and providing information about the impending EAB problem. “It’s harder to find backyard trees from the street,” she admitted. “So we want people to call us and we’ll happily come out to them and answer questions. Even in areas that don’t have ash; we’d hate for someone to apply pesticides unnecessarily, or even remove a tree if they don’t have to.”
While the team is working with a neighborhood schedule, it will make an appointment with a resident who gives them a call. In addition, Cooperative
Extension employees have discovered that some residents misunderstand what EAB is. “Some think it’s a virus,” noted Jess Alighieri, program assistant. “Some know it’s a bug but they’re not sure of the connection with ash trees. So there’s some disconnect with the information.”
With funding provided by the city Department of Parks and Recreation’s Forestry Department, National Grid and Onondaga County’s Water Environment Protection Program, Lyons expects the program to continue into September. “This year we have enough funding for just the city, but we hope in the future we can go into other municipalities,” she noted.
The tree team helps residents identify which trees are actually ash, and more specifically, which is green ash and which is white. “There are five species of tree that can be confused with ash,” Lyons said.
So far, nine counties in New York have been identified as having an EAB infesta tion:
Orange, Livingston, Genesee, Monroe, Steuben, Cattaraugus, Green, Ulster and Erie. But because the infestation is inevitable, Cooperative Extension wants to get the word out locally now. “We’ve been working on this for four years now,” Lyons said, “knowing the inevitability of the threat. The problem is if your tree were to be infested and you didn’t treat it and you didn’t take it down in advance—ash trees decompose very rapidly. So you’d have a year or two before it’s going to come down.
“The treatment is either removal or it’s pesticide application,” she continued. “And that’s another thing that’s prompted this outreach effort. In Monroe and Livingston counties, in particular, we were getting reports about arborists and pesticide companies telling residents they would treat their trees, and it’s not necessary. We don’t need to be applying pesticides unnecessarily. There is a real consumer concern about being taken advantage of.
“The reality is if an infestation is any greater than 10 miles away and you haven’t found emerald ash borer on your trees, you don’t need to treat them,” Lyons warned. “We probably have a couple years before we need to do something. Some pesticide companies are raising a lot of alarms and people are likely to take the bait, but they don’t need to.”
So if you even suspect your property contains an ash tree, Lyons urges you to call her team at 424-9485. They’ll come out and recommend a course of action. “If the tree has to come down, or if it’s still possible to save the tree, we’ll let you know. We also talk about replacing trees that need to come down. We need to have a resilient urban canopy, which means a wide variety of trees.”
For more information on the EAB initiative, visit www.extendonondaga.org or www.dec.ny.gov.