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Eastchester Ash Trees At Risk For Invasive Beetles

SCARSDALE, N.Y. – Ash trees in Eastchester may soon be under attack from thousands of Canadian beetles, potentially altering the local landscape and residents’ properties.

It isn’t a matter of if, but when this beetle, the Emerald Ash Borer, will invade Westchester County.

“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 is at risk and it’s hard for us to see it until it's too late.”

Peter McCartt, the volunteer chair of the Eastchester Environmental Committee ( EEC ), said the town should be relatively safe from the beetle siege. He said the invasive bug is often transported through firewood that is taken from upstate New York and brought back to the more metro areas.

“It shouldn’t be too big of an issue for us. We don’t have many blocks of trees, and when we do, there aren’t too many ash trees,” he said. “We’re predominantly a maple and oak type of area.”

In New York State forests , eight percent of all trees are natural ash trees, including 10 percent of all hardwood forests.

McCartt said that once a tree is infected, it can be very difficult to remove the beetle. Carefully controlled chemicals need to be used, or the tree needs to be chopped down.

“They’re so difficult to get rid of, just like any of the tree plagues and blights that have been happening for centuries,” he said. “They just wipe stuff out and never come back. We just want to make people aware and educate them about this.”

Emerald Ash Borer beetles first were discovered 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 and been detected in 11 counties, including Orange County. The species was first found east of the Hudson river in Duchess 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 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 in its larval stage kills the tree by eating it from inside 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 if the pest species was spread by natural means only, it would take only 10 years to spread across the country, but with human-assisted movement, mostly through firewood, it could be much faster. In order to slow the spread, a regulation was enacted to prohibit the movement of firewood more than 50 miles from its source, he said.

Because the arrival of the invasive species is imminent, Wiegert said, local residents and municipalities need to start making plans and determine what steps will be taken once local ash trees become infested. 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.

McCartt said he hopes the invasion can serve to benefit the community. He advised that homeowners should do a self-inventory of the trees on their property so they can be better prepared. He also warned that firewood should be carefully inspected for the Emerald Ash Borer.

“Each property owner should have their own inventory. They should know what the trees are and how to take care of them,” he said. “It’s important that people do this for their own sake. They should know what’s out there, what can affect their trees and how to prevent that.”

For more information about the Emerald Ash Borer or to report a possible sighting, call (866) 640-0652.

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