Emerald Ash Borer Part II - The Municipal Response

Issue: 
September-October 2010

THE URBAN FORESTER ANSWERED THE PHONE and responded, “We are looking at all options. We thought of using only one annual but it would leave the planters uniformly green after June – so we’ve made no decision on the petunias.”

I managed to interrupt. “Are we talking about fifty-nine cent petunias? I want to talk about ash trees that cost $450 per year to maintain.”

He paused. “Someone is working on it.”

Ontario’s urban forest is in a crisis when petunias are getting more attention than trees. Flowers are seen as the immediate downtown concern. Trees that thrive or fail at a slower rate are lower on the level of public awareness. In the meantime, little beetles are on a killing spree slipping across borders and property lines. Unless bugs threaten personal health, they don’t seem to warrant a lot of first page news coverage.

Without public pressure, municipal response to the emerald ash borer (EAB) appears to vary – on the extremes – from parallelizing panic to ostrich-like decision making. Luckily, there is a huge group sitting in the middle with ideas, goals and plans. John McNeil of Oakville Forestry stated, “We need consistency. We have consistent rules for copper water pipes. Why don’t we have consistency in urban forestry? We need leadership.”

Preparing for the Bug or Coming to an Ash Near You
Vern Bastable at Peterborough Green Up (a privately funded organization with a mandate that continues one year at a time) is aware EAB is moving toward the region. He knows the city sees many tourists from EAB “hot spots.” Many have wood stoves or fire pits requiring wood. Some will have dead or dying ash on their lawns in the south. “We can’t tell yet if these individuals understand the message of ‘don’t move firewood.’ We do know that in the provincial parks where ash wood is being tracked, people are still caught carrying infested wood.”

However, the story in Peterborough is not bleak. They are working on a full inventory of both city and privately owned trees. They now know ash is too abundant to face this crisis and they are encouraging homeowners (by providing funding) to plant non-dominant species. These include service berry, choke cherry, basswood, white spruce and hackberry. Ash is not funded.

Bastable said, “No matter what the blight, if it attacks one species a huge percentage of the forest could be wiped out. We’re promoting the right tree for the right place.” Green Up’s goal is to have each tree species comprising less then five percent of the total urban forest.

Taylor Scarr, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, stated, “OMNR does not have data on the proportion of trees species in urban forests, nor the number of trees in urban forests. The amount of ash varies considerably among different communities. It is quite clear though that ash is a commonly planted species. It typically makes up at least 10% of planted urban trees and often makes up an even greater percentage in many areas. Ironically, ash was selected by many urban planting programs because it tolerates the stresses of the urban environment well. It was often used to replace elm trees killed by Dutch Elm Disease (DED), and is not a preferred food source for gypsy moth, another invasive species.” However, he added, “OMNR does have maps indicating the percentage of ash in the rural forest.”

Dan McKenney from the Great Lake Forestry Center weighed in, “The main reason we need some sense of the urban forest is because urban centres are usually where alien species first get established and then spread. We need to know how much ‘host’ material there is in these areas because this affects if invasives will get established and how they will spread. This data also gives a sense of how much it will cost to remove and possibly replace trees that are affected by alien species like EAB. How big is the problem? How much will it cost communities and homeowners? This is what we are trying to determine.”

When doing a survey or inventory, cost is the big issue. Counselors may not see an immediate pay back for their money. One municipal counselor told me he voted to use TreeAzin because he believed it was cheaper then doing an inventory.

One of the ideas McKenney is working on that could help control municipal costs while getting the inventory process started is to use volunteers – naturalists, master gardeners, boy scouts, walking groups, seniors – anyone who can identify trees (at least to the genus level, i.e. they can tell the difference between a maple and an ash). 

He said, “We have a website with starting locations and data forms we are working on. I will provide the protocol of how to do the sampling and starting points. It is a sample based survey where one starts at street intersections and samples about 5-10% of the road length in a community. Once a town is done, there will be summaries of the trees/km of road and species composition in small, medium and large size classes. Keep in mind, this is a survey, not a complete inventory. Natural Resources Canada does make use of full inventories when they are available.”

McKenney continued, “We think this effort will help us quantify the potential impacts of EAB (and other alien species like Asian long-horned beetle) and also help give a sense of the urban forest across the country. The Ontario Stewardship Ranger program is helping by surveying some communities and we have had feedback from some other urban forestry types as well.”

HOT Spots to Watch
OMNR’s Taylor Scarr said that CFIA (the Canadian Food Inspection Agency) “has placed prism traps at over 500 sites across Ontario. Sites of special interest include campgrounds, roadside rest stops and mill yards. Areas of particular interest include the area west of the Golden Horseshoe infestations, east of London, Guelph, Barrie-Parry Sound, the Muskoka-Sudbury corridor and Manitoulin Island is also at high risk. This fall we will be working with Thunder Bay to put on a workshop with the municipalities in northwestern Ontario to develop a regional approach to preventing, detecting and responding to EAB.”

This year’s finds include Waterloo and Oxford counties and Ottawa. Just prior to going to press, CFIA confirmed EAB at Perth County at the Wahlen Line and Granton Line area.

Scarr continued, “In August 2010, campers from the infested area of southwestern Ontario were intercepted at the US border at Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. They were carrying ash firewood that was infested with EAB. They were violating both the CFIA quarantine restricting the movement of ash and firewood from the infested area, and they were violating the US prohibition on importing firewood. According to the US, the campers had been camping north of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Ontario Parks and OMNR forest health field staff for this area are making sure they include the parks in their search for EAB.”

It’s Here!
When David Barkley, Manager of Forestry Services, City of Ottawa, learned that EAB had arrived in their area he was surprised and yet he wasn’t. He was expecting EAB but he said you can never be truly prepared for the news. His immediate response was two pronged. First he called everyone he thought could offer valid suggestions and advice and second he stepped up plans to get their inventory up to date. “After amalgamation we had a mixed bag of data.”

Barkley learned that 25% of Ottawa’s forest coverage is ash representing 75,000 street trees. With data in hand, he developed a plan. He included injections, interplanting, got removal estimates (which came in at $75 million), and made the tough decisions on which trees they would try to save and which they couldn’t. He continued to use communication as his ally. “I was back and forth with John McNeil of Oakville and called the cities that experienced the initial wave to find out what they wish they had thought of at the time.”
The next stage was to get the public engaged. Barkley was emphatic: “I want to slow the spread until the science can catch up. I looked at our elm program and its history. What worked? What didn’t?” They held a meeting of stakeholders. This included the province, feds, first nations, large property owners and parks. Together they published an information pamphlet. They agreed on what websites would say. They agreed on how the information would be presented to the public. The goal, a good one, was to ensure only one message was presented to avoid confusion.

Lastly, Barkley did something intentionally that only a few other foresters I interviewed mentioned in passing. He called CFIA, the province and researchers. Instead of asking for help, he offered to help. As a result, he learned a lot and he got assistance in finding EAB locations. For $5,000, the City of Ottawa bought their own traps and CFIA set up even more traps. Together they did research on which traps are most effective and Ottawa now knows where EAB is and where it is not in high enough density to show up in the present traps, a vital planning tool.

Sault Ste. Marie is another city that upon discovering “they had the bug” decided to help with research, but the road was a tad rougher. The main street of Sault Ste. Marie (Canada), Queen Street, is a monoculture of ash. The local counsel voted to treat these high value trees with TreeAzin. Unfortunately, through some communication issues, the wrong dose was applied. The bad news came when testing showed EAB larvae were alive and well in the trees. City forester Don D’Zama did not give up. He offered his support for research and the Sault’s costly mistake provides more data in the “lessons learned” folder for the rest of Ontario. The city paid for a second dose of TreeAzin and BioForest and Natural Resources Canada are doing research on the effectiveness of TreeAzin under these circumstances as well as testing Krista Ryall’s (Canadian Forest Services) branch sampling method of detecting EAB.

John McNeil of Oakville did things a little differently. He decided to “help” researchers across the border in the US and a couple of them drove up to lend their support. McNeil’s says, “The problem is daunting. We have to get along. Too many foresters feel we are losing the battle. We need to work with planning and engineering in a team approach.”

McNeil rattles off city statistics with ease. “Oakville is breaking new ground. We did hyperspectral photography so we can pick out ash in photos taken from a plane. We hope we can devise a computer code to be able to produce a map showing heavily infested trees for large property owners. We already have a map of the whole community showing where there is ash. We had no time to knock on doors and get permission to enter property. We had to know where the ash is right now. When residents call, we can tell them immediately if they have an ash. We can give them a rough estimate of the cost of TreeAzin. We are aggressively treating trees. EAB doesn’t respect property lines. We, too, must also blurr those lines.”

McNeil adds, “We now have the data available for when the Asian long-horned beetle gets here. In the US, cities can access federal money for inventories that we can’t access here in Canada. Inventories should be publicly funded the way municipal roads and sewers are funded, as part of ‘public interest.’ There should be a canopy conversion program but the top down interest is just not there.”

McNeil wasn’t the only one to mention the lack of top down interest for trees. I called one counselor with the reputation of being “the most interested in the environment.” He had heard of emerald ash borer (his own city is known to be infested). He had heard there was treatment and he was willing to vote to treat some city owned trees, but to pay for an inventory – “no way.”

I called a chamber of commerce for their opinion. The answer was firm, no they would not pay for trees, or even add financial support to a municipal program. The excuses were long and lame. I called a couple businesses on Queen St. in Sault Ste. Marie (remember the monoculture of ash there that is infested) and asked would they pay to preserve the individual tree in front of their store. One said, “Nope. I need more parking. Pull it out.” Katherine MacRae, past president of the Sault Chamber of Commerce said she would vote to pay to preserve the trees but on the last similar vote, she was the only one who voted to save the tree and it was cut down. Another business manager said, “Yes,” she would pay but she was more concerned about the flowers….

MacRae said, “People are quick to give verbal support for the environment but it is usually only lip service.” She added she lives two blocks off Queen St. and her own ash is not doing well. She doesn’t know if it is stricken with EAB but she has wondered. She had it pruned and she is willing to pay to have it treated if and only if she can have it confirmed from a reliable source that the treatment is advisable and it works. “We need to protect our trees. They put lights on the trees on Queen St. at Christmas and they look beautiful. I think there would be less shoppers on Queen St. if we had less trees. It would be ugly. People need to think ahead.”

Finally, here are some comments from areas in “ostrich mode.” So not to embarrass the foresters, who are often simply following their municipal policy, I am leaving out identifying details. One municipality is directly beside an area known to be infested. The forester in charge said, “Oh yes, we value trees. No, we don’t need an inventory and no, we are not treating trees. No, we don’t have control or interest in privately owned trees. Yes, if EAB arrives we will speak to counsel about it.”

Another said, “We have an urban management plan in draft. If it is passed, we will start an inventory – maybe next year.

Another city known for its trees is in even worse condition for EAB preparedness – it still has ash on the list of trees recommended for planting! When questioned about this, office staff couldn’t understand why they might not want to recommend ash as it is a native species and neither the forester nor the communications department would not return my calls.

McNeil (Town of Oakville) says, “EAB is an invasive alien in a new environment. There are no natural controls. It is a primary tree killer. It is a serious threat and can wipe out a genus. The problem could cost billions in capital. Southwestern Ontario woke up one day to find out it was too late. That gave EAB the reputation that it is ‘the beast that can’t be slain.’ The operational tools are slow to appear. We need to publish that there are effective tools. It’s all about communication and working together.”

The Treatment
The big news for 2010 in treating EAB was when Acecaps (acephate, a systematic injection product registered for combating insects more than 30 years ago) added EAB to their label.

Speaking of labels, Barry Lyons, Natural Resources Canada, said to ensure you read both the label and brochure before using Acephate for EAB. The brochure says, “Preventative treatment should be made by applying implants early April to early June. Treatment reduces populations of emerald ash borer larvae and the damage they cause, but may not provide control of this pest.” Lyons emphasized, at this point, even “the label can not say it controls EAB.”

MacNeil said he will not use Acephate in Oakville for three reasons. First, it requires annual treatments. Second, the label says it might not be effective for EAB, and third, there are concerns with exposure to workers. D’zama said he uses Acephate in the Sault for other insects and may try it for EAB.

Relatively new on the scene, TreeAzin is still being used in Ontario and Quebec under emergency registration and is not yet fully registered in Canada although it is in 40 or more countries. Joe Meating of BioForest said, “We are hoping to hear from PMRA (Pest Management Regulatory Agency) by January 2011 but even then there could be another 6 to 12 months of bureaucracy before we can sell it under full registration. It is a very frustrating system but I generally support their cautious approach with pesticides.”

NRCan’s suggestions for dealing with EAB are as follows:
1) Make changes slowly.
2) Remove heavily infested trees to decrease brooding areas.
3) Interplant with diverse species. Have no more then 10% of any one species.
4) Be vigilant looking for EAB.
5) Know where the high density areas of host species are growing.

The Last Word
Municipalities are responsible for trees on their property. Neither the feds nor the province have the mandate to care for municipal trees. One expert said, “Most counselors don’t even know what EAB is.” It is the arborists job to educate them.

With good information, it is possible for politicians to be supportive and for tree care workers to ‘slow the spread’ and protect property values until the research can catch up. The value of education and teamwork cannot be under-emphasized.

Sidebar 1: Acephate & TreeAzin Links

Acephate (O,S-dimethyl acetylphosphoramidothioate) 0.773g/implant cartridge
The full document is at http://pr-rp.pmra-arla.gc.ca/PR_SOL/pr_web.ve1?p_ukid=2735

Azadirachtin TreeAzin emergency registration for Ontario and Quebec.
Azadirachtin 50 grams per litre (5% by weight or volume)
The full document is at http://pr-rp.pmra-arla.gc.ca/PR_SOL/pr_web.ve1?p_ukid=13865

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