Hopewell Valley’s Ash Trees Pose Serious Safety Hazard 

Hopewell Valley’s Ash Trees Pose Serious Safety Hazard 

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Photo credit: Angela Jacobs

“Plant trees!” was the advice given by Nora Sirbaugh, Hopewell Township Environmental Commission Chair, at the October 2, 2017 Township Committee meeting. The reason, she says, is that thousands of ash trees will die at the hands of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) insect and without planting new trees, “the look of the valley will be changed.”

Ash trees, of which many Hopewell Valley streets are lined, are being infected by the EAB beetle in rapid numbers. Within four years of infection, the trees die and, unless they are treated with an insecticide or taken down, people and property will be at risk from trunks spontaneously snapping and heavy branches falling.

Emerald Ash What?

The EAB beetle came to the United States from China in shipping pallets. It first made its mark in Michigan in 2002 and, then thanks to campers who brought firewood across state lines, travelled across the U.S. and was discovered locally in 2014.

The outlook is bleak and action must be taken quickly. In the first year of infection, the tree appears healthy. By the second year, the tree continues to appear healthy but woodpeckers flock to the tree in order to eat the insect’s larvae burrowed under the bark. The larvae busily eat the tree’s xylem and phloem tissues, essentially starving the tree. In the third year, the crown thins, as nutrients are unable to reach the high branches, and bark starts splitting. By the fourth year, the tree is dead.

“We will lose all of our ash trees,” said Sirbaugh who urged a plan for planting new trees with a diversity of species rather than a single type in any given location. Providing environmental diversity would also prevent a similar kind of environmental devastation by a future insect or disease.

To Treat Or Not To Treat, That Is The Question

According to the publication, “Insecticide Options for Protecting Ash Trees from Emerald Ash Borer,” once half the leaves at the tree’s top have thinned out or died off, it is most likely too late to apply available insecticides to save the tree. Important trees, experts say, should be treated, even if no signs of infection are present, if the tree’s location is within 10-15 miles of a known EAB infestation. Though many factors are involved in the decision to treat or not treat a tree (i.e. size, location, health, and value of tree, cost of insecticide treatment, cost of tree removal), Rainbow Treecare estimates that it is less expensive to treat a tree for 20 years than remove it.

Identification of ash trees is the first step and, once done, residents are urged to contact a trusted tree professional. The trees can be spotted as having: (1) branches and buds growing on opposite sites of each other, rather than staggered; (2) leaves that are compound and composed of 5-11 leaflets; (3) (mature trees ) bark showing a tight diamond-shaped pattern or (young) a smooth appearance. Further information about how to identify ash trees and the effects of EAB in Hopewell Valley are provided in this video and in this document.

What Hopewell Township Is Doing

In large part, the Township, along with the Jersey Central Power and Light (JCP&L), are removing, rather than treating, ash trees along municipal roads to eliminate the hazard of falling trees. For the past two years, as trees have been found, and marked for removal or not depending on their location, their locations have been “pinned” to an online map. Available grants that will defray the cost of planting new trees mandate an inventory of ash trees.

What You Can Do

Though doing nothing is tempting when so many things compete for time and money, it is not an option. Homeowners should find out if they have ash trees, according to Sirbaugh, and if so, consult a tree professional. Additionally, isolated ash trees should be added to the online map by visiting the Hopewell Township website and clicking the “Have your say” button at the bottom. From there, click the “Help us manage the Emerald Ash Borer in our Ash Trees” box which will open a page where tree locations can be pinned.

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