CARBONDALE – In June 2007, the first Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) was discovered in Cumberland County PA, but its damage has not ceased, nor has it slowed down. It has only worsened.

“And as it gets worse, it becomes more of a safety hazard – to the public, the community, utilities,” said Leo Laourdakis, a tree care specialist and owner/operator of Carolyn Anne’s Tree Service on Gordon Avenue. “The Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) is literally devouring the ash trees throughout Pennsylvania. And right here in Carbondale, there are numerous groves of ash trees that are affected. Trees are dying all around us.”

During a recent drive-around, Laourdakis pointed out individual trees in his own neighborhood, on Main Street, along nearby Memorial Park and on Hendrick Lane. “Many of these trees have been affected for years, others more recently. New infestations are difficult to detect, since tree damage isn’t always noticeable right away and can take up to three years to be diagnosed. But people look at their trees and wonder what’s killing them.

“Initially, people think that just trimming the dead or dying branches will help, or they just top them off and leave the rest of the green-leafed branches,” said Laourdakis. “The trouble is that once the EAB has infected a tree, it tends to dry out quickly and eventually shed its limbs. As the tree dies within itself, it becomes more hazardous to cut or remove.”

According to Laourdakis and Vinnie Cotrone, an urban forester with PSU’s Cooperative Extension Service, the EAB is actually native to Asia and found its way to the States. “Its first detection was in Michigan in 2002,” said Cotrone, “and evidence suggests that the beetle had established itself there for years prior to its discovery. Since then, the EAB has been found in several states, along the northern borders, and in Canada. In addition to spreading by natural means, the EAB can be transported to new areas through infested firewood, timber, and nursery stock. Reportedly, US timberland has an estimated 8 billion ash trees – 300 million of them are in PA forests. To date, this beetle has been responsible for the loss of up to 100 million ash trees in North America.”

“But this matter is also a public safety issue,” Laourdakis stressed. “When trees get in the way of power lines, the utility services generally cut around the troublesome branches to free up the lines and wires. But the trees continue to grow for a while. That’s when more problems occur because some trees become dangerously big with an eventual tendency to fall once they’ve died within themselves. Removing very big trees is costly, so then they’re an economic problem. Some trees are so big that my team refuses to cut them due to the inherent safety issues. When the branches begin falling or the trees die and drop, they’ve caused even more damage … to property and wallets.”

“Hear a woodpecker? Cotrone asked. “It’s likely the bird is already searching for its EAB dinner.

“If you suspect damage and have noticed dieback on an ash tree, confirm your suspicions by looking for a small ‘d’-shaped hole or mark in the tree bark,” Cotrone said. “That’s a tell-tale sign to remove that ash tree sooner than later because that mark is a beetle’s emergence hole. Exclusive to ash trees, these beetles lay their eggs and its larva hatch about a week later. They bore into the tree to feed in between the bark and its hardwood crevices, creating a very noticeable ‘S’-shaped or spiral-like gallery around the tree.” Cotrone further explained that larvae go through three feeding stages and then excavate a pupal chamber in the fall, where they overwinter as prepupae. Pupation occurs in late spring, and adults begin to emerge through the ‘d’-shaped hole, exiting in May and early June. Adult beetles will remain active until the end of summer.

If you opt to remove a damaged ash tree, “don’t wait until you see tiny branches growing along the tree trunk,” said Laourdakis. “That’s called epicormic branching, as the tree is trying to save itself. But it won’t work. The beetles have already killed it inside.” According to the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), the EAB is the most destructive exotic forest pest in North America since the chestnut blight and Dutch elm disease. And this bright green beetle has the ability to potentially destroy the entire ash genus. Just seven years ago, the white ash was the seventh most abundant tree species in PA.

But while the damage is already prevalent, the DCNR advised that there are three control methods for the EAB: tree removal, chemical control, and biological control. According to its website, tree removal reduces the amount of phloem for the larvae, or the innermost layer of the bark, which slows the beetle’s population growth and spread. Chemical control includes a systemic insecticide in predetermined locations in state forests on trees that have an historic or ecological significance, as well as select seed-producing trees. Biological control means an intentional introduction and permanent establishment of exotic agents for long-term pest control and a tree-breeding program to select for ash tolerance to EAB attacks. While these are tips for anyone whose trees have not yet been impacted by the EAB, the DCNR warns that dealing with under-bark feeding insects is challenging. For additional information, contact the DCNR’s website, www.dcnr.pa.gov.

In the meantime, PPL’s media relations representative, Alana Roberts, advised that “we’re aware of the effects of the EAB, and we have a comprehensive vegetation management program that addresses all of our lines on a regular schedule. We regularly inspect our power line rights of way to look for hazards, or potential hazards, created by trees and trim or clear them as needed, including the ash trees. That being said, if a customer knows of an ash tree outside of the right of way that they think could affect electric service if it fell on the power lines, please call our vegetation management hotline at 1-877-528-2889. Our regular inspections also look for these trees and will work with property owners on a solution.

“Our tree contractors have specialized equipment for safely removing ash trees, as they no longer climb them because tree damage isn’t always visible,” Roberts added. “We’re also aware of the pesticide treatments available for ash trees, but they’re costly and not guaranteed. And due to the sheer number of ash trees involved, this wouldn’t be a cost-effective method for an electric utility. For an electric utility like PP&L, the best and most cost-effective way of dealing with the problem is to remove any ash trees that could pose a threat to the power lines, regardless of their being visibly affected by the ash borer.”

“Understanding and awareness of this problem is important,” said Laourdakis. “And while I hate to see trees literally dying all around us, I want my neighbors and community to be more aware of the literal dangers being caused by these dying trees … the dangers caused by falling branches or toppling trees. I’m passionate about trees and will help protect them and my neighbors as best as I can.”

To help stop the movement of exotic pests like the EAB and understand some of the causes of ash tree destruction, the public is reminded that PA bans the transport of firewood into the state. By order of the DCNR, use only local-area firewood. If you have already transported firewood … do not take it home, do not leave it, just burn it.

For additional information about the EAB and protecting PA’s forests and trees, contact the PA Department of Agriculture at 1-866-253-7189. For local-area tree trimming or removal assistance, contact Laourdakis at 570-282-1025