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Beware the Emerald Ash Borer: Our forests and water quality at risk


The emerald ash borer is smaller than a penny. Photo: Howard Russell, MI State U., via New York DEC.
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A beetle, unseen and largely unknown to most New Yorkers, is invading our state and could result in untold and costly losses in the form of millions of trees destroyed. It will impact the spectacular fall foliage show we will see in the future by killing millions of ash trees. The loss of so many trees can also significantly impact our water supply.

eabsize1The emerald ash borer, an imported Asian tree pest that destroys the tissue under the bark of ash trees, was first discovered in Michigan in 2002. By 2009, it had spread to Western New York and 11 other states. By 2015, the emerald ash borer was in 25 states.

In New York City water supply lands and forests, about 7 percent of all of the trees are ash. The watershed is at severe risk of infestation by the emerald ash borer. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates that the emerald ash borer has destroyed over 50 million ash trees in the U.S. so far. In the Catskill Mountains and the Hudson Valley, there are more than 550,000 acres of land covered by ash trees that could be threatened. These areas include the 2,000-square-mile watershed that provides drinking water to New York City and over 60 upstate communities. The City watershed has significant lands, streams, lakes, and reservoirs in the Catskills.

Ash trees may go the way of Chestnut and Elm Trees.

In the early 1900s, an airborne bark fungus called chestnut blight devastated American chestnut trees in North America, reducing the population from three billion to fewer than 100 trees. In 1928, elm trees in the New York City metropolitan area first became infected with Dutch elm disease, a fungal infection spread by imported elm bark beetles. By 1989, over 75 percent of the estimated 77 million elms in North America had been lost, virtually eradicating them from the United States.

Fewer trees, less protection for our watershed lands.

Trees provide many benefits to our water supply lands. Tree canopies intercept rainwater before it reaches the ground, thereby reducing soil erosion and stormwater runoff. Trees also provide shade that stabilizes water temperature in watershed streams to reduce thermal impacts. Deforestation impairs water quality by compromising soil structure and increasing erosion, runoff, and water temperature. Destruction of a large number of ash trees in the City’s drinking water supply lands could contaminate streams and reservoirs with sediment and impair the City’s ability to provide clean water. This would have severe and potentially costly consequences for the nine million consumers who rely on the City’s watershed for the 1.2 billion gallons of clean drinking water that flow to their taps daily from 19 upstate reservoirs.

What can you do? Be vigilant and support efforts to fund eliminating the invasive emerald ash borer.

About 4,000 trees have already been lost in the city water supply lands in what is sure to be a challenge for many years. The state DEC website helps identify the emerald ash borer. If you think ash trees on your property may have ash borer beetles, please call DEC’s hotline at 1-866-640-0652.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer is lobbying for bipartisan support of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2015, a bill that would keep funding intact for ash borer eradication while providing budgetary relief and flexibility for the Forest Service in fighting forest fires. You can send an email to lend your support of the bill on the senator’s website.

Whether you live in New York City, its vast water supply lands and forests, or anywhere else in the state, it is critical that we all remain vigilant to deal with the spread of the emerald ash borer before hundreds of thousands of trees die.

Your efforts will assist keeping our ash trees from going the way of our elms and chestnuts in the last century.

The emerald ash borer is smaller thana penny. Photo by Howard Russell, MI State U., via New York State DEC.

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
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