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All Eastern Panhandle ash trees are at risk from an emerald pest

[cleeng_content id=”778741466″ description=”Read it now!” price=”0.49″ t=”article”]We imported a fungal blight that killed off the American chestnut in the early 1900s. Now we are seeing a wave of death among our ash species caused by another imported pest, the emerald ash borer.

The emerald ash borer was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and today the beetle has spread to 22 central and eastern states where its larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees and kill them in as little as two to three years.

The emerald ash borer was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and has since spread to 22 states.

The emerald ash borer was discovered in Michigan in 2002 and has since spread to 22 states.

Unfortunately, yes, West Virginia is on that list of states and the impact is already being felt in the Eastern Panhandle. It is impossible not to notice entire ash stands wiped out at Cacapon State Park and further devastation throughout Morgan County. And while a walk through Altona Marsh near Charles Town is a thrill for birders, the experience is dampened by the site of scores of ash trees succumbing to the ash borer.

The experts cannot tell us yet if the nation’s entire ash population will be eliminated but there is no doubt that all of the ashes in our region are at risk. Tens of millions of ashes have succumbed to the fate of the emerald ash borer so far and the pest shows no signs of slowing down.

Area forest managers have been aggressively harvesting ashes while they still have utility or timber value, but other than that there are very few proactive options for coping with the ash borer on a large scale.

However, there are options for small-scale management. Individual trees can be protected with insecticides injected or otherwise introduced into the tree’s vascular system. When done properly this approach has proven highly effective. The treatment is relatively safe (there is even an effective organic product available) as the insecticide stays isolated within the tree. Plus the cost is negligible when compared to both the value of the tree and the costs associated with managing a hazard tree that will require removal by a tree service. Some homeowners have had success with preventative measures on young — less than 10 inches in diameter — ash borer-free trees by using insecticides available to the general public. Most trees, though, require treatment by a professional, especially if there is the possibility of an existing infestation.

In Martinsburg a recent tree inventory revealed that ash trees make up more than 10 percent of the street tree population, providing thousands of dollars of ecosystem services for the city each year. Morgan’s Grove Park in Shepherdstown is populated with stately ash trees and West Virginia’s third largest green ash is part of that population.

It is not too late to act to protect these trees. Of course, Berkeley and Jefferson counties have budget limitations that may make proactive treatment unaffordable. Unfortunately this means we will have no choice but to pay a far greater cost for removals when these trees become standing dead hazards. Setting the cost of public risk management aside, if we consider the historic character these mature trees add, plus the cooling, air filtering, water cleaning benefits they provide our community, can we truly afford not to act?

Treatments are most effective when performed before the end of June. If you have ash trees to protect now is the time to figure out a proactive strategy – a wait-and-see approach simply will not work. For the latest information, please visit this multiagency public website, emeraldashborer.info.

— Shawn Walker is a consulting arborist based in Shepherdstown

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