OSSINING, N.Y. – Ash trees in Ossining are already under attack but soon could face another threat in the form of beetles, changing the local landscape and residents’ properties.
Teatown Lake Reservation officials say a fungus known as ash yellows can cause irreversible damage to white ash trees and recently resulted in the cutting and removal of more than 40 trees in the area. While hundreds of ash trees have not yet been affected, officials are growing concerned about the beetle threat seen in Dutchess County and in many other areas of the country.
“We just had to cut down a whole bunch of dying and dead ash trees because of the ash yellows fungus,” said Maggie Pichura, environmental education representative with Teatown. “Now a lot of ash trees around here are going to get the one-two punch.”
While it has not migrated south, officials say the presence of the beetle, called the emerald ash borer, in Westchester County isn't a question of whether it will happen, but when.
“We are basically just trying to slow the natural spread,” said Wendy Rosenbach, spokesperson for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. “Any species of ash are at risk, and it’s hard for us to see it until it’s too late.”
Emerald ash borer beetles were first found in Michigan in 2002, where they most likely traveled from China in shipping materials, Rosenbach said. Since then, the beetles have spread to New York, where they have been detected in 11 counties, including Orange County. The species was first found east of the Hudson River in Dutchess County in March, according to the state. Rosenbach said that although the species has not been found in Westchester, 36 traps meant to attract and capture the beetles have been placed by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The beetles are less than half an inch long with bright emerald wings and a copper abdomen, said Jeff Wiegert, regional forester for the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The beetle kills the tree in its larval stage by eating the inside of the tree and cutting off its access to water and nutrients.
“It’s pretty serious,” he said. “All ash species in North America are in danger. That’s 13 different species from Canada to Mexico.”
Wiegert said that if the beetle were to spread by natural means only, it would take just 10 years to spread across the country. But with human-assisted movement, mostly in firewood, it could be much faster. To slow the spread, a regulation was adopted to prohibit the movement of firewood more than 50 miles from its source, he said.
Wiegert said it’s difficult to detect the species until it’s too late, but urges residents to either capture or take photos of the beetles if they suspect an infected tree is on their property.
For more information about the emerald ash borer or to report a possible sighting, call 866-640-0652. Teatown representatives also recommend the USDA website for more information and pictures of infected trees.