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April 10, 2019

Dead ash trees pose threats all over Fauquier County

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
A contractor for the Town of Warrenton this week will remove these two dead ash trees that display classic emerald ash borer damage in Rady Park.
Photo/Colorado State Forest Service
After hatching, emerald ash borer larvae penetrate bark and tunnel around the trees. After they emerge, the adults eat leaves and move on to lay more egg masses.
Photo/Lawrence Emerson
The insects leave distinctive D-shaped holes in ash bark.
Any trees that are alive in Fauquier County are probably being treated.
— Meredith Bean, Virginia Department of Forestry emerald ash borer program coordinator
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Editor
Most of those not already dead stand as zombies all over Fauquier, bearing obvious wounds and losing limbs as they also succumb.

Tiny, but beautiful emerald ash borers — an invasive insect from China — have decimated graceful ash trees in parks, neighborhoods and forests.

Ash wood commonly gets used for baseball bats — hard but also prone to break and splinter. Deprived of nutrients and moisture, dead ash trees quickly turn brittle, dropping limbs and often falling.

Depending on location, those trees threaten lives and property.

“At this point, if an ash tree has not been treated, it’s pretty much done,” said James “Jamie” Wood, an arborist who manages Bartlett Tree Experts in Marshall, which has battled the borer for six years.

The insect, just a half-inch long at maturity, has decimated North America’s native ash trees, some of them 80 feet tall.

“It’s sad,” Warrenton Parks and Recreation Director Margaret Rice said when asked Tuesday about two dead ash trees near the picnic pavilion at Rady Park. “A contractor will take them down later this week.”

The ash trees in Rady Park provide textbook examples of the devastation. Large sections of bark have fallen off, revealing the crazy patterns of beetle larvae tunnels that girdle the trees, ultimately starving them.

“You don’t really pay attention to your trees,” said Kinner Ingram of the Virginia Department of Forestry office in Warrenton. “Then all of a sudden, they don’t have any leaves.”

By that point, nothing can save them. If a tree still has about 70 percent of its leaves, the application of an insecticide — typically injected like IVs around the base — can stop the borer.

“This treatment is not a cure-all,” said Mr. Ingram, an urban and community forestry specialist. “It’s about 75-percent effective.”

It also can cost $300 or more for a large tree, which will require treatment every two or three years. The Virginia Department of Forestry has a 50/50 cost-share program to help property owners save still-healthy ash trees.

The state agency also has experimented with predatory wasps as a control. In Whitney State Forest just south of Warrenton and the G. Richard Thompson Wildlife Management Area near Markham, those tests have produced encouraging results. But, again, it probably comes too late.

“Fauquier County is on the ‘post-crest’,” said Meredith Bean, the state’s emerald ash borer program coordinator in Charlottesville. “Any trees that are alive in Fauquier County are probably being treated.”

Mr. Wood said he has seen one cluster of trees near The Plains that seems unaffected.

Bartlett has worked with about 50 customers to save ash trees in Fauquier, he said. Those jobs range from a single tree to 40 of them.

State foresters confirmed Fauquier’s first ash borer infestation in 2014, six years after its Virginia debut on nursery stock in Fairfax County.

The devastation started in 2002 near Detroit, where foresters traced the origin to egg masses on shipping pallets from China. Wiping out ash trees in the Midwest, the borer moved south in search of new food.

“I would say the emerald ash borer and the hemlock infestation (by the woolly adelgid, another Asian insect) are right in line as the worst we’ve seen,” Mr. Wood said.

Ash trees account for about 3 percent of the overall forest here, 10 percent around water and as much as 15 percent in parks, according to experts.

Even the casual observer will notice the “blonding” — light-colored patches on the rough textured bark of big ash trees. Eventually, the bark pops off, revealing the borers’ damage, tunnels that resemble haphazard subway maps. The insects also leave small D-shaped holes in the bark of infected trees.

“I think the biggest thing now is the safety aspect,” Mr. Wood suggested. “Just felling a damaged tree is dangerous because of unpredictability. Normally, you notch a tree properly and it falls where you want it. That’s not always the case with dead ash.”

Bartlett and other tree companies refuse to climb badly-damaged trees because of the risk of limbs or even trunks breaking. Tree removal often requires use of a bucket truck or even a crane.

Routine removal of a good-sized tree exceeds $2,000. The use of heavy equipment quickly escalates the cost.

Warrenton will spend about $4,200 to remove the pair of ash trees in Rady Park, according to Ms. Rice.

“Especially up in Northern Virginia, I definitely recommend people remove dead trees,” said Ms. Bean, the state program coordinator. “People have died in Michigan.”

The Virginia Department of Transportation faces huge challenges.

“There are numerous ash trees in the commonwealth and unfortunately, treating all of the trees before the emerald ash borer arrives is not practical and is cost prohibitive,” said Will Merritt, a spokesman for the agency’s Culpeper District office. “VDOT roadside maintenance staff routinely perform risk assessments on trees in the state right-of-way. The assessments include the likelihood of failure.

“Trees not on the VDOT right-of-way are considered and assessed the same as trees in the right-of-way,” Mr. Merritt added. “However, VDOT usually does not remove trees from private property that do not pose a high risk to motorists. All trees, including ash trees, with a high risk assessment will ultimately be removed to protect the traveling public.”

Mr. Wood, who has worked 21 years as an arborist in Fauquier, said: “For the state, I can’t imagine what they’re up against.”

Contact Lou Emerson at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 540-270-1845.


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Cammie Rodgers · April 10, 2019 at 3:32 pm
"State foresters confirmed Fauquier’s first ash borer infestation in 2014, six years after its Virginia debut on nursery stock in Fairfax County."

We saw the damage already taking hold at the Weston Wildlife Management Area back in 2013. It's very bad now with huge trees dying or dead. Don't remove any Ash wood from the area you find it to anywhere else, and make sure to burn what you can to kill any possible eggs.
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