Landis Arboretum Executive Director Fred Breglia started worrying about emerald ash borers years ago.
The small, green-shelled beetles are capable of taking down a full-grown ash tree in a few years — laying eggs in the bark that grow into maggots and eat what amounts to the tree’s circulatory system. It’s not a pretty sight for a career arborist and would be devastating to Breglia’s 548-acre tree garden on the Montgomery-Schoharie counties border.
“As invasive species go,” he said, “borers spread rapidly.”
Near the end of the summer, his fears were realized when the Department of Environmental Conservation confirmed the presence of emerald ash borers in Schoharie County.
Schoharie is the most recent on a growing list of New York counties with confirmed ash borer populations. That’s not a good list to be on. Since the insect was discovered in Michigan in 2002, it’s marched all through the Midwest, leaving a wake of dead ash trees.
Aside from certain pesticides and firewood quarantines, there’s not much to be done about the spread.
A few years ago, under threat of coming invasion, the DEC worked with members of the public, including Breglia, to hang purple triangular box traps across the area. They were coated with an ash borer attractant and checked regularly.
“This past August, three adult emerald ash borers were caught in the town of Middleburgh in one of the purple prism traps,” said DEC spokesman Rick Georgeson.
There are as yet no actual trees known to be infested by borers in Schoharie County, and Breglia’s traps haven’t turned up any of the green beetles, but it’s just a matter of time.
Cornell Cooperative Extension natural resource educator Richard Burtell works in Greene County, which has one of the largest populations of ash borers in the state. He’s pretty fatalistic about the insect’s advance.
“We’ve been working to slow down the spread,” he said, “but stopping them isn’t going to happen. We need to figure out how to deal with losing the ash trees.”
The whole state could stand to lose up to 15 percent of its forest. Fifty million ash trees in the Midwest have already died, he said, and there are 90 million more in New York at risk.
If the ash trees all died in the next decade, the loss would be felt beyond Breglia’s aesthetic and scientific love of them.
“In Greene County,” Burtell said, “they’re just taking down trees all over the place.”
Dead ash trees tend to fall quickly, he said, blocking roads, maybe even crushing people or their homes or possessions. Certain municipalities in the Midwest couldn’t keep up with the deadfalls, and some have been hit with lawsuits.
He recommended all of the state’s communities draft a plan and lay away money to deal with tree removal.
To facilitate such planning, Cornell is hosting an emerald ash borer informational session for local government officials and workers at the Agroforestry Resource Center in Acra on Wednesday. Mark Whitmore, a Cornell University forest entomologist and ash borer expert, will be there to answer questions.
And there are plenty of questions — even legal ones. The DEC just placed Schoharie County, along with Schenectady, Dutchess and sections of Fulton and Montgomery counties, on ash tree quarantine, restricting the movement of ash trees across county lines. Burtell said the laws are fairly complex, but still allow for the productive use of infested ash.
“We want to answer any questions people might have,” he said, “so we don’t end up like those hard-hit Midwestern towns.”
Wednesday’s program will run from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. For information or to register, call 622-9820.