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Albany Faces New Foe: Emerald Ash Borer

The battle against the emerald ash borer, an invasive pest that has decimated thousands of tree across America, has moved to the city of Albany, where officials are scrambling to mount a counteroffensive.

One by one, ash trees have fallen to the emerald ash borer.  This metallic green insect, which arrived in the U.S. in 2002, only measures about a half-inch long and an eighth-inch wide. It kills all ash tree species and is considered to be one of the most destructive tree pests ever seen in North America. Experts believe the borer – originally from Japan, Korea and China – came to the United States on wooden shipping pallets and crates, and made its initial appearance in Albany in 2014.

The city’s Department of General Services, using funding from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, has launched a program to treat and remove damaged ash trees. A recent inventory identified 1,000 ash trees city property along Albany streets and an additional 1,200 in city parks and public spaces. All are in jeopardy, according to city forester Tom Pfeiffer:   "It is a smaller percentage of the overall street tree population than what the elm tree was in its full glory, covering a lot more of the city's tree population."

Individual trees tend to die within 2-3 years after becoming infested.  The invasive species is on a eastward trek. New York's  Ulster County and parts of Greene County are heavily impacted -  the bug itself impossible to eradicate.    "We've already done treatment for this year prior to the emergence of the adult as it comes out into the flying stage. And now we're gonna do some removal of trees that have been damaged to the point of they're not really worth treating or to the point where they may begin dropping limbs that would be a public safety issue."

Over the past winter, the New York City DEP cut 4,000 ash trees in the Catskills that showed signs of infestation. The borer first appeared in Massachusetts in 2012, which had already seen trees removed following the discovery of the Asian Longhorn Beetle, another invasive species.  The New York DEC is also involved in the effort to combat the borer, which  hasn't shown up in Vermont yet, but with border states harboring the bug, it is expected to land there eventually.

Mollie Klepack  is Forest Pest Outreach Coordinator at the University of Vermont Extension.  "We have not found a confirmed infestation in Vermont. We've been looking with every detection method we know of at this time, but we have not been able to find a confirmed infestation."

The ash tree was the successor to the stately American Elm that for years dominated cityscapes until Dutch Elm disease (carried by another imported beetle) decimated their numbers.  Albany is among cities that replaced the park and street trees with the native American white ash, itself now in the path of peril.

"We're trying to educate the public about how this pest moves, which is largely in wood material. Firewood, nursery stock. These insects live in the wood and can easily get moved by unwitting campers trying to bring firewood with them when they go camping."

One avenue of research that scientists have been pursuing is visiting the borer's Asian home territory and researching what natural enemies the bug may have.

Limited experiments are being conducted in some hard-hit states like New Hampshire, where researchers have identified  three candidate parasitic wasp species that are being reared in a Michigan laboratory.  "And those are non-stinging wasps that actually will lay their egg in the adults, or the egg or the larvae of the Emerald Ash Borer, and their egg will hatch and their larvae will feed on that Emerald Ash Borer. And so that's a way of keeping the Emerald Ash Borer in check."

Meantime, 40 ash trees are slated for removal this fall in various Albany locations. More will be taken down next year. Officials say notifications have been given to residents with ash trees adjacent to their homes that are slated for removal.

  • NYSDEC’s emerald ash borer hotline is 866-640-0652.
  • Albany Cornell Cooperative Extension can be reached at 518-765-3500. The Extension’s EAB website is http://albany.cce.cornell.edu/environment/invasive-pests/emerald-ash-borer.
  • Albany residents  can contact DGS at 518-434-CITY for more information.   The City is currently working to find sufficient funding to pay for planting new trees on City property for residents who would like a replacement tree for a removed ash tree. However, DGS always encourages residents to support tree planting programs, and has a 50-50 matching program for new trees. For information on how best to support replanting initiatives, residents can contact Eva Petkanas at DGS (epetkanas@albanyny.gov /518-434-5822).

For additional information on the emerald ash borer, please visit the national EAB information website, which is operated through a grant from the US Forest Service, Northeastern Area.

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