Ash trees have long stood tall across Centre County, but they’re meeting an ugly demise.
Emerald ash borer, an insect native to eastern Asia, has caused the destruction of ash trees, headaches and cost money for everyone else.
West Penn Power announced Wednesday the continuing efforts of its Emerald Ash Borer Program, which will have removed about 11,000 infected ash trees near power lines across central and western Pennsylvania by the end of the year. Local municipalities have begun programs to remove infected trees and to replace trees that have met their fate.
“Emerald ash borer larvae hatch from eggs laid by females, and in their wood-boring activity they attack the tree and infect its central vascular system, resulting in death of the tree,” Penn State entomologist Gregory Hoover said.
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West Penn budgeted $1 million for tree removal work this year. Dead and damaged trees, according to the company, pose a risk to electrical infrastructure.
“Trees are the No. 1 cause of power outages, whether a branch falls, a tree falls or a tree branch contacts a line,” West Penn spokesman Todd Meyers said.
Ash trees have been particularly problematic for West Penn, which is why it is the only tree species with a program specifically targeted for removal by the company.
“The ash trees are being attacked en masse and dying altogether en masse,” Meyers said. “If you get to a tree early with an insecticide treatment every year, you might be able to save it, but if it’s already infected it’s too late. Unlike many other trees, when they die they rot almost immediately near root and just fall.”
The instability of diseased and dead ash trees, he said, has caused power outages throughout the state. There are about 160,000 ash trees near West Penn power lines.
State College adopted the Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan in January to minimize the insect’s impact on the borough’s ash trees. The program could cost about $295,000 to $395,000 over 10 years for treatment, removal and replacement of ash trees, according to the plan, which will rely on federal, state and local agency grants to help offset expenses.
There are about 7,000 trees along borough streets, and 342 were ash trees in 2014.
Borough spokeswoman Courtney Hayden said State College is collaborating with the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Forestry, Division of Health to implement the plan over a three-year period ending in March 2018. DCNR will give the borough federal grant funds of up to $15,000 with a 50/50 match.
“The borough will conduct emerald ash borer suppression activities to accomplish objectives in the plan,” Hayden said.
The plan considered 161 ash trees maintainable, though 50 to 80 trees will be treated annually. Trees smaller than 10 inches in diameter won’t be scheduled for treatment and will be removed as they become infected.
The treated ash trees will get injections of Tree-äge, a pesticide to provide protection against the invasive insect for up to two years with one application. Removed trees could be replaced by the borough.
Harris Township manager Amy Farkas said the insect will kill every untreated tree and that even treated trees could be infected.
The township, which has a combination of 97 dead, diseased and healthy ash trees, implemented the Ash Tree Replacement Program in May. The township “actively treats” three ash trees and plans to replace diseased and living ash trees.
The program launched in the Springfield Commons development with 30 volunteers who helped replace 40 ash trees and, Farkas said, an Eagle Scout replaced 10 trees in the same area last fall. The program has cost the township $3,500 for the replacement trees in Springfield Commons and $1,000 to treat three ash trees, which need to be treated every year.
Springfield Commons developer Tom Songer shared the cost of the trees with the township, Farkas said, saving the township about $2,500.
“We will continue to remove and replace ash trees over the next several years,” she said. “We will be replanting with a variety of species. We planted zelkova, honey locusts and little leaf lindens in Springfield Commons.”
Patton Township does not have a program to protect or replace ash trees, though its road crew does remove dead ash trees in parks and public right-of-ways as needed.
“There have been a significant number of ash trees infected and killed,” township manager Doug Erickson said, adding that diseased and dead ash trees have been an issue throughout the township for two to three years.
There used to be a quarantine on the movement of ash tree products, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation spokeswoman Marla Fannin said.
“That quarantine is no longer in effect,” she said. “When in effect the quarantine restricted movement of ash (tree) products and materials from a quarantined county to a non-quarantined county.”
Fannin directed further comment on the quarantine and emerald ash borer to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which did not respond to requests for comment.