As the Emerald Ash Borer continues its decimation of ash trees in New York state, it has turned up this winter for the first time in Tompkins County near Ithaca.
The invasive beetle species has been eating its way across the ash trees in New York state for the last decade, destroying a once vibrant ash tree population. Entomologist Mike Griggs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture detected the infestation in Arnot Forest last month while walking his dog.
“There’s a tree that’s woodpecked, and the only time you see an ash tree that’s woodpecked like that is if it’s got real problems,” Griggs said. “As I approached it and looked closer, after 10 years of research, I realized it was Emerald Ash Borer.”
Griggs said this is another example of how an invasive species can decimate an entire species of tree.
“The ash is an important species,” Griggs said. “It’s an ecological interloper. You cut a field down, the first tree that shows back up is ash. And it’s also a riparian species, so I’m wondering what’s going to come in if the ash dies. And I don’t think anybody knows that answer yet.”
Griggs said it was a matter of when, not if, the invasive insect turned up in Tompkins County.
Arnott Forest managers from Cornell University have been trying for the last 10 years to preemptively salvage some of the ash, which make up about 15 percent of the trees. Now, decisions ramp up over whether to inject trees with pesticide or chop them down. It is the same decision homeowners now face with the invasive beetle in their backyard.
Griggs says this is just one more example of the devastation wrought to indigenous trees by invasive species.
“Butternut’s under disease and is being wiped out by an Asian disease,” Griggs said. “We’ve lost a lot of elms. [There are] Asian long-horned beetles on maple. How far can we push our ecosystem and wipe out diversity before we run into troubles?”