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State, Cornell Cooperative Extension teach public to identify invasive pests

Ellen Abbott/WRVO

On a muggy morning next to the American Steel and Aluminum Company in Liverpool, four people clad in orange vests look through binoculars at the vegetation that surrounds the warehouse.
They're looking for bugs. Or more specifically, traces of damage to trees by the "big three" invasive forest pests threatening trees in central New York. A New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets expert and a forest research expert from the Onondaga County branch of Cornell Cooperative Extension are taking volunteers out in the field to get a real life look at the potential signs of damage from the emerald ash borer, the Asian long-horned beetle and the hemlock wooly adelgid.

"Most of these new infestations are discovered by educated public, not by inspectors. So by training volunteers to be aware of what's going on in trees in their community, we have a better chance to detect things early," said Kristina Ferrare of Cooperative Extension.

Credit Ellen Abbott/WRVO
Volunteers are taught to examine trees for damage caused by the "big three" invasive pests.

John Mancinelli, one of the volunteers looking for signs of these insects, says he's aware that these bugs could make a difference in a shady suburban neighborhood.

"I work for the Radisson Community Association. We are a large homeowners association and we have a large number of forest trees and single family property trees," Mancinelli said. "It kind of depends if it's the emerald ash borer. It might have a significant impact depending on how many ash trees there are. Odds are, though it won't be good."

While ash trees are one target, Ferrere says other trees are vulnerable depending on the bug.

"Asian long horn beetle loves maples, so it could be in this box elder. But it also likes willow, and horse chestnut and poplar and other hardwood species. Of course emerald ash borers love ash trees. So we're doing a broad survey at this location."

They chose this site because many of these species catch a ride along Interstate 81 or the New York State Thruway, hidden in pallets that transport goods around the state.

"I don't think the way that we move material will change very much and the world, we're a global economy moving products all over the place.  It could happen. I hope it doesn't," Ferrare said. "This is an industrial area, there's probably a lot of wood pallet coming through so the chances of infestation, jumping out of packing material into the woodlands is higher."

So far none of these species have been recorded in Onondaga County. The emerald ash borer is as close as Rochester. The hemlock pest is killing trees in the Finger Lakes, and experts are trying to contain the Asian long-horned beetle in the New York City area. Other areas where these pests can turn up include campgrounds where firewood can be brought in from other parts of the state.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.