SARANAC LAKE - The village's ash trees could be decimated by an invasive species of beetle unless village officials develop a comprehensive plan to protect them. But even that might not be enough.
Dan Groves of Olympic Tree and Land Management told village board members this week that it's only a matter of time before the emerald ash borer reaches the North Country. It has already been found in Montreal and western New York.
"This thing kills ash trees, and we really don't have a good way to combat it at this point," Groves said. "It isn't a question of whether it's going to be here in Saranac Lake. It's a question of when."
A white ash tree is identifiable by its symmetric leaf sections and basket-weave-looking bark.
(Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)
Recent efforts to protect tree species against other invasives, like the Asian long-horned beetle, have met with some success because those pests move slower and can be more easily contained, Groves explained.
But that isn't the case so far with the emerald ash borer, which Groves said can travel large distances on its own, as much as 25 to 50 miles per year. The bigger problem is people moving firewood from ash trees.
"People could unknowingly carry infected firewood to the Adirondacks when they go camping, and all of a sudden we have emerald ash borer kicking around," Groves said.
The village, like the forest around it, has a large number of green and white ash trees. In particular, Groves said 75 percent of the trees along Lake Flower are ash.
"When you think about the emerald ash borer coming in and decimating our population of ash trees it gets a little scary because that's going to be a cost to the village," he explained.
Groves encouraged the village to develop a comprehensive plan for fighting emerald ash borers and budgeting for those options. They include letting the village's ash trees die and taking them down, planting other species of trees or treating the ash trees the village wants to save with insecticide.
The first step in the process would be to conduct a survey to identify the location of ash trees in the village. A tree inventory of the village was performed after the 1998 ice storm, which Groves said could be used as a baseline of information.
Mayor Tom Michael asked how insecticides would be applied and if that method would be safe. Groves said the chemicals are injected into the soil and taken up by the tree's root system. When the emerald ash borer chews on the tree, it dies.
"It's a pretty safe way to do it," Groves said, adding that using insecticides on every tree could be expensive. "You may want to consider just trying to save a few trees."
Michael said he heard a recent report that said there's no way to stop emerald ash borers.
"They said all we can do is delay it until we can find a predator that will eat it," he said. "It will eventually, without a natural predator, take all our ash trees."
Michael asked village Manager Marty Murphy to find the tree survey performed after the ice storm. He also requested information on the per-tree cost of using insecticide.
"My thought is, barring any other great technology leap, we may be better off going with a plan of long-term replacement rather than trying to save every tree," Michael said.
Efforts to determine whether the emerald ash borer has arrived in the North Country are ongoing. The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been subcontracted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to hang purple, triangular traps designed to attract any emerald ash borers that may already be in the area. Technicians go out every 30 days to check each trap for the insect.
"They're trying to monitor where this thing is going and how fast it's moving so they can come up with a plan," Groves said.
Last year, DEC implemented a ban on untreated firewood entering New York and restricted movement of untreated firewood in the state to no more than a 50-mile radius from its source.
The emerald ash borer and Asian long-horned beetle aren't the only threats to trees in the North Country.
Many elm trees in the area are still being impacted by Dutch elm disease, which is transmitted by insects or through the roots of trees. "Dead or dying elms are everywhere around town," Groves said. "Dutch elm disease is definitely still a big issue."
Contact Chris Knight at (518) 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org