Emerald ash borer, hemlock wooly adelgid addressed at Cornell Cooperative Extension forum

Jessi Lyons, the natural resources coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, talks about emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly adelgid during a presentation Monday at Skaneateles Town Hall.

Maria Norris, Special to the Journal

SKANEATELES | Residents gathered at the Skaneateles Town Hall Monday night to learn information about two destructive pests that may reveal themselves to the town within the next couple of years.

Jessi Lyons, the natural resources coordinator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Onondaga County, gave a presentation on the invasive species emerald ash borer and the hemlock wooly adelgid.

EAB, a small green beetle, has been a rapidly growing problem for New York state's ash trees. The larvae infest and eat the tissue of the ash tree, dehydrating and eventually killing it.

"The emerald ash borer first appeared in the United States in 2002," Lyons said. "It arrived here from China via packing material from boats. ... It took a whole decade for us to figure out what exactly was killing our ash trees."

She said the EAB is elusive and there is still not much known about the way it colonizes the trees. Issues with disposal of infected timber and the sale of bug-infested firewood has been a big contribution to the spread of this destructive creature.

"Storm debris is going to be a growing issue as well.," Lyons said. "When these trees fall down, the branches and trunks are being disposed of improperly."

The best way to get rid of ash that may be infected, she said, is to put it through a wood chipper, burn it completely or cut through at least an inch and a half of the wood's surface. Cutting the wood into logs for firewood isn't enough to remove the EAB.

If the firewood isn't burned, the larvae can remain inside through the winter and then emerge as winged adults in the spring and summer.

"About a quarter of Onondaga County is infested," Lyons said. "But so far, there have been no signs of EAB spotted in Skaneateles or Marcellus."

This is good news for Skaneateles, she said, because it means that the town and its residents can have time to prepare for it and learn more information on the bug itself and, most importantly, what can be done slow of the spread.

But, Lyons said, there is no foolproof way to completely shield Skaneateles' ash trees from EAB. At some point, they will arrive, though there are a lot of things that can improve the situation.

"The goal is to slow the spread so we can remove it on our own terms," she said. "We're not expecting to completely stop the spread. It may take two or more years to see the signs of the bug's presence after initial infestation, but we do not recommend that people alter their forest management plan."

Lyonss emphasized that it still may be a few years before Emerald Ash Borer makes its way here.

When it does get here, the best way to handle it is to first recognize the signs of infestation in ash trees. Some of these include bark splitting, the thinning of the top branches of the tree, sprouting from the trunk or base of the tree, S-shaped galleries under the bark and D-shaped exit holes.

After these signs are identified, the next course of action is to either have the tree taken down and have it responsibly disposed of or begin treatment with pesticides. Pesticides are expensive but cost less in the long run, and they are what is taking care of HWA at the southern end of the Skaneateles Lake.

"Cost calculation is in favor of pesticide treatment," Lyons said. "These are two very different bugs. The emerald ash borer isn't in Skaneateles yet as far as we know, but the hemlock wooly adelgid has proven to be a very significant concern on the southern end of Skaneateles Lake."

HWA is a tiny aphid-like bug that feeds on the base of pine tree needles. When grouped together, they form a white fluff that can be seen underneath pine tree branches in between the needles.

Although they have appeared in local backyards, Lyons said there is more hope for containment of these bugs. They are not totally widespread yet because for the most part they are almost completely immobile and the only way they can spread from one branch to another is if a squirrel or bird disturbs them.

"There's only a small window of time where they can spread by themselves in June and July," Lyons said.

Besides the use of pesticides, she said a biological control has been used to battle the bugs. A small beetle native to the United States has been released in parts of New York affected by HWA. The beetle's only diet consists of the tiny invasive species.

If solutions such as this became more frequent and if more native bugs and animals become natural predators of invasive species, Lyons said there could be a decline in the invasive species that are taking up resources for native plants and animals.

Over the years, a balance may return to New York and other states affected with this problem, she said.

"Woodpeckers are our friends in this situation," Lyons said, referring to the EAB. "They help identify which trees are infected. The hope is that after a few generations, our native predators like the woodpeckers will learn that they can eat these bugs."

Skaneateles Journal Editor Jonathan Monfiletto can be reached at jonathan.monfiletto@lee.net or (315) 283-1615. Follow him on Twitter @Skan_Monfiletto.