MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. – Ash trees in Northern Westchester soon could be under attack from thousands of beetles, changing the local landscape and residents’ properties.
The presence of the beetle, called emerald ash borer, in Westchester County isn't a matter of if it will happen, but when it will happen.
“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 are at risk and it’s hard for us to see it until its too late.”
Vincent Valvano, vice president of Valvano & Sons Landscaping and Construction in Mount Kisco, said that with borer infestations he has witnessed, "most of the damage we've seen has been because the insects get inside the tree and kill it from the inside out," he said. "The borers are the worst."
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.
The species was first found east of the Hudson river in Dutchess County in March, according to the state. Rosenbach said 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 kills the tree in its larval stage by eating the inside of the tree and cutting off its access to water and nutrients.
“It’s pretty serious,” Wiegert said. “All ash species in North America are in danger. That’s 13 different species from Canada to Mexico.”
Wiegert said if the 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.
The key to defeating this destructive species is preventative treatment, Valvano said: to try to spot the presence of a beetle colony early, and then, to hire a tree service company to administer systemic chemical injections to the tree's root system.
"You have to get it early enough in the early stages or else pretty much, the writing's on the wall," Valvano said.
For more information about the emerald ash borer or to report a possible sighting, call 866-640-0652.