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An imminent threat to trees

Forest ecologist sees little hope for sparing Adirondacks from tree-killing bugs

July 9, 2009
By MIKE LYNCH, Enterprise Outdoors Writer

PAUL SMITHS - Diseases and pests are the biggest threats to Northeastern forests as we know them today, a leading scientist from the internationally renowned Cary Institute of Ecosystems Studies in Millbrook told an audience at the Visitor Interpretive Center Wednesday.

"It's pests and pathogens that (I'd say) if you ask me what has had the biggest impact on the forests in eastern North America in the last 100 years," said Charles D. Canham, a forest ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. "It's not land clearing; it's not logging; it's not agriculture. It's not any of the things you tend to think of. The things that have fundamentally altered the forests of North America are chestnut blight, Dutch elm disease."

Canham was speaking on behalf of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program for Adirondack Park Invasive Species Week.

Article Photos

Asian long-horns are one-inch-long boring beetles that can kill maples and other hardwoods.
(Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

Today, he said the fastest growing threats to forests are pests: the emerald ash borer, the hemlock wooly adelgid and the Asian long-horn beetle, which eats maples and other hardwoods. The ash borer is perhaps the best known now because it's been in the media a lot recently, especially since purple traps hanging in trees went up earlier this summer, around the same time it was discovered in western New York.

Canham said there's no real way of stopping these threats to trees other than developing biological controls.

"We have no real hope of stopping this," Canham said. "Within five to 10 years, all of the ash trees are likely to be dead."

Currently, when an ash borer or long-horn beetle finds a tree, biologists can only hope to contain the spread of these bugs by cutting down the trees where it is found. The trees have no hope of surviving after the ash borer gets to them.

"If the insects find the tree, it's dead in a matter of years," he said.

Public education is one of the best tools we have, he said.

One of the most important rules people need to adhere to is not moving firewood.

"We need to find ways to stop them, and probably the most important is the recent (state Department of Environmental Conservation) regulations on firewood. Never move firewood," he said. "We are inadvertently spreading these things. Once they are established in a new site it is really difficult to stop them."


Contact Mike Lynch at 891-2600 ext. 28 or



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