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Emerald Ash Borers Decimating Valley Trees
Written by Ernie Quatrani, Correspondent

            Emerald ash borers are the latest scourge to reach red alert status in the Upper Perkiomen Valley, joining spotted lantern flies, cicadas, chestnut blight, and the watermilfoil and hydrilla choking Lake Skymount. The emerald ash borers, half-inch long metallic green beetles, are weakening ash trees and creating hazards for unsuspecting users of parks and other areas where ash trees grow.

            The beetles destroy the conductive tissue, the layer below the bark, beginning a death spiral that lasts three to five years for the trees that provide wood for baseball's famed Louisville Slugger bats.

            "Ash is brittle: it shatters and that becomes problematic," said Green Lane Park Environmental Educator Kevin Crilley.  " When the tree is dead of dying even those briggle limbs can do a lot of injur and damage down below."

            A contractor has been hired by Montgomery County to deal with the problem in Green Lane Park. At the moment the focus is on taking out trees that are posing immediate hazards on trails, at picnic areas, and over campsites, some of which have been temporarily closed.

            Trees slated for removal are marked with orange paint that should serve as a warning for park users to avoid lingering under the compromised trees. Limbs can randomly fall out of the trees at any moment.

            The same scenario is playing out within Marlborough Township. The township's public works crew has been busy taking down ash trees near pavilions and other congregation areas in the township parks.

           "Public work's guys have done a great job," said Burt Shive, a member of the township's park and recreation commission. "Anytime we alert them of any issues with [ash trees], they're out within a couple of days and get the trees down."

            In February of this year, Green Lane Borough Council heard from Jereme Lockey, a local tree removal contractor, who told the council that a number of ash trees on a 26-acre property above Green Street should be removed because of the emerald ash borer.

            That resulted in the borough's formulation of a Timber Proposal, presented to the council in April.

            Future Forest Timber Management LLC was hired to thin out the old growth forest near Green Street. Jon Regan, a consulting forester for the company, explained that the best trees are being left behind, but space is being created for new tree growth with an eye toward eventually regenerating the woods into a "younger forest".

            During the three week job, which is about halfway done, the company will remove all types of trees, including over a hundred ash trees.

            "Their ash was either already dead or heavily infested. The beetle was probably there last summer too," Regan said.

            Green Lane plans to sell the timber to benefit borough projects.

            Additionally, the Green Lane Marlboro Lions Club donated money to have several ash trees in Isaac Smith Park removed.

            The beetle is also causing problems in Upper Hanover where Township Manager Stan Seitzinger reports that the road crew has been removing trees in public park areas and sites where compromised ash trees on township lands threaten nearby houses.

            "We've addressed [issues] where we had a need to," he said.

            The emerald ash borers have kicked into "overdrive" during the past two or three years, noted Crilley. Experts realized the trees were being affected, but the problems were mostly cosmetic.

            Until recently.

            Crilley estimates that affected trees that might have been 75% foliated last year are now producing leaves at rates of 0 to 25%.

            Crilley, who has a forestry background, also estimates that ash trees account for up to 25% of the trees in Green Lane Park. "It's kind of sobering to think about the forest cover here."

            Marlborough Park and Recreation Chairman Ed Kadel was even more pessimistic, predicting that the emerald ash borer is "going to take every ash tree that's standing at the moment."

            The demise of large numbers of ash trees will create collateral damage for the birds and insects of the area. One bird, however, that is benefiting from the borer is the woodpecker which is hammering away at the stricken trees.

            The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis Fairmaire), a native Asian insect, was first detected in the United States in 2002, near Detroit, and in Pennsylvania in 2007. The insect causes damage during its larval stage by feasting on the trees.

            In addition to the relentless eastward march of the emerald ash borer, the infestation can spread through the sale of firewood harboring the beetle.

            "Emerald ash borer is a serious threat to the 308 million ash trees in the forests of Pennsylvania," states the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) website.

            Symptoms of infestation include upper crown dieback, bark splits and flaking, and D-shaped adult beetle exit holes in the bark, according to the DCNR.

            "The telltale [sign], and you don't have to go very far to recognize it, is 'flagging'," said Kadel. "That's when the upper branches of the trees lose their leaves and you can see that those upper branches are dead."

            Trees die from the top down and the remains rot very quickly. Property owners who want to try and sell the ash or use it for firewood have to act quickly. Trees more than a year dead are useless.

            To that end, Shive is trying to interest Marlborough officials in a program similar to one in place at Nockamixon State Park in Bucks County. Under the supervision of park rangers, residents pay $25--and have two days--to cut up an ash tree that has been taken down in the park.

            Homeowners with ash trees will have a challenging time dealing with the beetle and the DCNR advises them to only treat healthy trees and trees that are valuable.

            Anecdotal evidence suggests that smaller ash trees are faring better than larger ones.

            Kadel notes that people without the money and/or expertise to treat their trees with systemic chemicals are going to lose their ash trees. Those chemicals, like Climate, can control the insect but their use must follow strict protocols and experts are best suited to applying the treatments.

            The borers are active in warm weather but the cold of winter does not kill the hibernating beetles which seem to have no problem with sub-freezing temperatures.

           Kadel related that Penn State, where he is affiliated, is trying to find a natural enemy of the borer in order to reduce the beetle's population. So far, they have been unsuccessful.

            Kadel compared the ash trees' situation to that of the American chestnut which has suffered from blight but is still around because of the seeding process. Unfortunately, the blight is still around also.

            "Currently the seed bank that's in the ground with ash trees ensures that over the next decade or so we'll see ash trees germinate and come up and maybe even go to seed," Kadel said.

            "But it's going to be a cyclic thing. The trees are going to get so big that the ash borer is going to attack them and they're just going to go back down. They're going to die off again."

            Regan noted, "It's going to take a long time, probably 30, 40, 50 years or more, to see what's going to happen. Is the beetle going to die off? Is it going to adapt and attack another tree?

            "It's very big. It's sad what's going on with the ash trees."

            Kadel took his somber prognosis a step further.

            "Unfortunately this is just a portent of things to come for other species, especially with international trade being what it is. There is going to be another pest or insect or infestation to come into the country and we're going to wind up losing all our major hardwood species one by one."





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