The emerald ash borer: though not a problem in East Aurora now, it could be soon. That was Tree Board Chairman Nancy Johnson's message for the Village Board at its May 6 meeting.
“It's kind of up to you how you want to proceed,” Johnson said. “We do feel this year is the time to act – we can't promise the ash borer will get here this summer, but it is very likely. It's been spotted as close as eight miles from the village.”
Board member Kevin Biggs agreed about the issue's urgency, saying that “it's not a matter of if the ash borer is coming; it's a matter of when.”
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the emerald ash borer is an Asian beetle first discovered in the United States in Michigan in 2002. The insects infests and kills North American ash species—most trees die within two to four years of becoming infested. The emerald ash borer is responsible for the destruction of more than 50 million ash trees in the U.S. since its discovery, the DEC website reports.
Johnson estimated that there are about 100 ash trees in the village right of way and about two dozen in Hamlin Park. The Tree Board stopped planting ash trees about 10 years ago because of the threat from the ash borers, so any ash trees in the village are mature.
“That's why we think they're worth saving, because some of them already are older and bigger trees, and some of them are in important places in the village,” Johnson said.
There are several ways to inoculate ash trees against the emerald ash borers, including spraying pesticides and also injecting them. Trustee Libby Weberg voiced concern that the pesticides used can be harmful to birds, but Johnson said her DEC contacts refuted that claim. First of all, the birds that feed on borer larvae are only attracted to live insects, so insects who die due to the pesticide would not appeal to them. Ash trees are also wind-pollinated, so bees wouldn't be affected, either.
“Anything that only feeds on ash trees is at risk anyways, since if the ash dies, its food source will be gone,” Johnson pointed out. “It's a little bit of a double-edged sword.”
Tree Board member Jesse Griffis added that because of the potential environmental impact, the group would “absolutely” recommend the injection method of pesticide application over conventional spraying. The village doesn't have anyone licensed to administer the pesticide, so an outside contractor would have to be hired. An average-sized tree would cost about $50 to inoculate, meaning costs would be roughly $6,000 overall.
Trustee Patrick Shea, saying he was playing devil's advocate, suggested only inoculating the larger ash trees. He said the money saved could be used to purchase new trees that won't be in danger from the borers.
Griffis said although all the ash trees in the village are fairly mature, he agreed with Shea that “there are some we'd miss less.” Johnson said the board should also consider the costs of removing a dead tree once the ash borers had destroyed it—because the insects can travel in firewood and wood chips, the ash trees would have to be burned to be properly disposed of.
“There is a cost to removal, and it is quite high,” Johnson said. “You could cover three, six, nine years of inoculation before you reach the costs of [removal.] If you have a nice, big, mature tree that is healthy, the value of that tree is so high.”
The pesticide would have to be reapplied every year, as it is injected into the sap and is transported to the leaves, which borer larvae eat and then die from. When the leaves fall, the pesticide's effects go with them. However, once the borers hit the area, it will be years before they return.
Trustee Randy West asked Johnson and Griffis to begin collecting quotes for the inoculations so the village could get a more concrete idea of the costs. Village Administrator Bryan Gazda said money for the inoculations will most likely come from the shade trees line in the budget, but that he would take a closer look at other options for additional funds. The board will talk again about the issue at its next meeting, on May 20.
In other news, Johnson also asked the board to formalize the Memorial Tree Program. Although the tree board is often coordinating the planting of trees in memory of certain individuals, the program is not officially recognized by the village. The board voted unanimously to change that, making it a formal village program. It comes as no cost to the village, as the inquiring person pays for the tree—all the village provides is personnel to plant it.