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Cornell Researchers Discover Destructive Emerald Ash Borer In Tompkins County

Scars where ash borer larvae have eaten the tree just underneath the bark.
Scars where ash borer larvae have eaten the tree just underneath the bark.

Ithaca, NY (WSKG) - Emerald ash borers have been found in Tompkins County. Researchers at Cornell University spotted the insects in one tree in the University’s Arnot Forest. The forest is 4,500 acres and stretches across Tompkins and Schuyler counties.

The emerald ash borer lays eggs on the ash bark. They hatch and the babies crawl just behind the bark and start eating. That’s the death knell for the tree. Then they mature and bore into the hardwood. The dead trees are dangerous. They’re weak and can easily fall.

Mark Whitmore is an entomologist at Cornell. He's studied emerald ash borers and other insects that eat plants, for about forty years.

This discovery is the warning shot, he said. Now, it’s time to prepare for what will come. Ash trees aren't just in forests. They are often around human infrastructure. Beginning in the 1960s, they were a popular replacement for Dutch Elm trees. They are found along many city streets, around homes, power lines, highways and even playgrounds.

"I’m suggesting that homeowners find out if they have any ash trees that they are responsible for," said Whitmore.

"Know where your ash trees are, and then ask yourself  'ok, what am I going to do?'"

Communities and individuals can do several things. Mike Griggs is the USDA entomologist who spotted the infested tree. He said people should only use firewood near where it’s cut.

"By not moving firewood, we can limit the spread of a lot of these bad insects. And by not spreading them around, we have more time to deal with them and handle them."

Hikers, hunters and others who are regularly in area forests can help track the progress of the borers, too, according to Griggs and Whitmore. If you see a woodpecker on an ash tree, it's likely they're eating ash borer larvae (the babies) just under the bark.

There's one thing they do not recommend: cutting down all the ash trees. Wait, they say, because some trees will survive. Those trees will be crucial to the survival of the entire species. Whitmore says there are aesthetic and economic reasons to care about the existence of our ash trees. 

"It’s a cherished tree, it’s a really important tree in our forests," said Whitmore.

"Ten percent of hardwood forests in New York are ash and I don’t think just giving up is the right response."

He hopes good planning and saving the seed of surviving trees will ensure future ash forests.