Do We Have to Kiss Our Ash Goodbye? Taking Action on the Emerald Ash Borer

You may have heard of emerald ash borer, as this invasive pest has recently made its way into Maine. This is big news, as the insect is capable of killing almost all of the ash trees in Maine, which is a huge problem. If you don’t know much about what this means or what you might do, this post is offered as a starting point. First of all, it is a good idea to become aware of ash trees…those on your land and around your town. In many places in Maine, ash trees make up a significant component of our forests. In towns, along streets, in parks and schoolyards, ash is a popular tree that has been planted for a long time. How do you identify an ash tree? There are several species of ash in Maine, but you don’t really need to be able to tell them apart, as the emerald ash borer affects all kinds of ash. In general, ash trees have a leaf composed of a number of “leaflets” (which look like leaves themselves) along a stem. Ash have thick twigs, and bark with regular ridges going up and down the trunk and branches. See the picture below to see the leaves (each green stem with 5-7 leaflets along it is actually one leaf) and bark. Different species vary slightly from this basic form.

Next time you are out, try to see if you can identify ash on your property or nearby. Since it’s winter, look at the bark, and look for thick twigs gently curving upward at the ends, and coming out from branches directly opposite of one another.

Click on picture to see details.

In only 15-20 years since the pest arrived in North America, EAB has spread from Wisconsin and Michigan, to Missouri, to Quebec and across New England. Some states have lost nearly one hundred percent of their ash trees as the emerald ash borer has become established. If you travel through the Midwest in summer, in places you will see many trees that are bare and dead or dying, so much so that it looks like winter in places.

Can we avoid this in Maine, where the infestation is not yet widespread? Ash is an important tree for lumber, firewood and wood products. For some landowners, harvest plans for ash are part of making their forest economically productive. Our parks and streets are lined with ash trees. The seeds of ash are important food for wildlife and birds. The depressing scenario of losing all of this tends to fill our thoughts as we think that soon Maine ash will meet the fate of ash trees in many states.

The truth is that there are many reasons to hope, and to take action. Right now, in most of our towns, emerald ash borer is not established…giving us some time to respond, and to take advantage of what other states have learned. Depending on many factors, it could reach your town many years from now–or in the coming year, if somehow infested wood or trees are transported into your area.  So limiting the spread of EAB is step one, which you can take right now by not moving ANY ash wood, firewood, or nursery stock – especially not from out of state. Areas of Maine are under quarantine, where movement of ash wood is prohibited, and further quarantine areas will be established.

Another important thing to do right now is to become aware of the signs of emerald ash borer… early detection of the insect is a key step in combatting the outbreak. You may be the first person to notice it in a new area if you stay alert for the signs. So its possible we could slow the spread of emerald ash borer through effort and awareness. Other methods offer hope in slowing the emerald ash borer in Maine. Scientists have developed means of slowing emerald ash borer movement through creation of trap trees and population “sinks” where the insects are lured to weakened trees and then destroyed. Insecticides have been developed that effectively protect ash trees, and so high value trees in yards or parks can be saved. Even slowing down emerald ash borer populations in Maine could save 800 million dollars, according to US Forest Service estimates.

The truth is though that eventually, many ash trees in Maine will likely succumb to the emerald ash borer eventually. But don’t panic and cut all  your ash trees right away! It usually takes 5 – 10 years for a outbreak to take hold, and in some areas it may take longer for EAB damage to show up. Plus, there are strategies for managing forests with ash trees in the resources below – talk with a licensed forester or call the Maine Forest Service for additional guidance for your situation.

Will ash trees be forever lost to our forests? In fact, it is quite likely that through the efforts of scientists, landowners, towns, universities and agencies, we will be able to restore the ash tree in Maine in time. One part of the solution is using “biocontrols,” or predatory insects that will feed on the emerald ash borer. In the future, when there will be many fewer ash trees (and thus fewer emerald ash borers), such biocontrols may be an important way to keep the emerald ash borer in check. Another important strategy will likely be the effort to find the few ash trees of different species that have some inherent ability to resist the emerald ash borer, cross breed those individuals to create stronger and more consistent resistance in offspring trees, and then propagate and plant resistant trees in forest restoration efforts. This is a primary reason for leaving ash trees in place, and as trees start to die, to note any trees that seem to stay healthy in an infested area: they may be genetically resistant, and thus very important to preserve. Genetic technologies now available will likely offer further options to create resistant trees. And these technologies are developing rapidly.  In the Midwest, where emerald ash borer has killed many trees, researchers are well on their way to developing methods to propagate resistant trees we can readily apply in the Northeast. We need to take the time now to learn from their work and get ready to implement these efforts here. We need to plan for how we will face emerald ash borer infestation in Maine with systematic, multi-faceted strategies. And with luck and some hard work, we’ll be able to offer our children and grandchildren forests with this strong, beautiful, important tree.

Some interesting resources to learn more:

Pictures of basic signs and symptoms of emerald ash borer infestation

Emerald Ash Borer University: a YouTube channel with lots of interesting, short videos on everything I’ve talked about here.

Emeraldashborer.info  has pretty much all the information you could need on emerald ash borer in the US.

https://www.maine.gov/dacf/php/caps/EAB/index.shtml – Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry (includes places to report possible EAB)

 

Our Flagship Resource Protection Program: Forests for Our Future

Since beginning our program expansion in 2017, we have been all about connection, collaboration, and integration. In 2018, we’ve been thematically integrating our various types of work in order to share a coherent vision and plan for conservation with residents of Waldo County.

Waldo County is over 80 percent forested, and even properties focused on agriculture or residential use often have significant woodland areas. It is for this reason we have worked to create a strong program to help people steward forests for a productive, biodiverse, resilient future.

Forests are facing unprecedented threats, including forest pests poised to decimate dominant tree species in Maine and invasive plants impacting forest regeneration. Climate change is poised to exacerbate these problems as well as to create major changes in our forest composition. Conserving forests is a major focus of the SWCD since Waldo County is more than 80 percent forested, and a forest-based economy is a significant part of many Mainers’ livelihoods. That’s why Waldo County SWCD has developed a new concept to address forest conservation and stewardship in its service area through a project called the Forests for Our Future (FFOF).

The FFOF program is an innovative approach that unites a wide variety of outreach and technical assistance activities in forest conservation. The project is designed to offer a coherent strategy and public face for the district’s varied programs to protect forest resources. One part of the program, now in its second year, is a monthly series on small-scale woodland stewardship that addresses many aspects of woodland management, from sugarbush maintenance to smaller-scale harvest and forestry plans. In these workshops, community members tour local woodlands with landowners who are implementing effective practices to steward their woods. The SWCD is partnering with the Maine Forest Service to implement the series. In addition to workshops, staff is offering conservation assistance to forest owners wishing to implement adaptive management.

Another goal of the FFOF program is to provide leadership in response to forest pests such as the emerald ash borer and hemlock woolly adelgid, an invasive insect that attacks North American hemlock trees. The district has spearheaded local efforts to monitor these pests as infestations approach the area. Pest monitoring is the first part of a continuum of services and includes assistance to municipalities and landowners in planning for and responding to pests.

Another aspect of the program’s multi-faceted approach is engaging high school students to educate them about forests. The students learn about forestry while gaining skills in science through creating and sampling Maine Forest Inventory Growth plots, which are part of a Project Learning Tree program. College students help high school students learn as a part of the district’s Conservation Corps internship while gaining valuable skills. They also assist forest landowners in mapping and managing invasive plants and help local conservation land managers monitor biodiversity. One popular part of the internship experience is planting new types of trees in local parks and mapping the urban forest canopy while quantifying storm water management provided by the trees.

The FFOF program also aims to develop knowledge for the future through developing forest management practices that support resiliency. The district has started a partnership with a local private demonstration forest to implement forest adaptation strategies, including planting tree species that are not currently native in the area but have potential to offer ecosystem functionality, urban tree canopy and forest cover in the future. Waldo County SWCD has provided the forest management plan for the demonstration forest and is assisting with seeking funding for forest adaptation research.

The FFOF program has ultimately been a great tool to unite many partners in forest conservation work. Through ongoing publicity of the umbrella program, Waldo County SWCD’s constituents gained an appreciation of the multi-faceted nature of addressing major conservation challenges and understanding of the role soil and water conservation districts serve in bringing people together to tackle pressing resource issues.

Business Planning Course for Farmers Now Open

Are you ready to Re-strategize your Farm’s Business…?
…then it’s time to “press the pause button” and give yourself the time to refresh your thinking, connect with other farmers, reconnect with the reasons you got into farming, crunch some numbers, and get on (or get back on) the path toward sustaining yourself doing what you love. Registration for NxLevel™ Tilling the Soil of Opportunity, a business planning course tailored for Maine farmers, is now open. The instructor, Jed Beach of FarmSmart Business Services, has designed this course for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry – Maine Farms for the Future Program. The course is certified to provide Farm Service Agency (FSA) Borrower Training Credit.

In six sessions, you will:
●    Update your business goals – compare where you are now with where you want to be
●    Determine which crops are helping or hindering your goals
●    Evaluate existing & potential markets
●    Improve your time & people management skills
●    Create production and marketing plans that meet your goals
●    Evaluate potential financing opportunities and identify your best options
●    Write your new business plan – then make it a reality!

You will hear stories from practicing farmers and guest speakers who are experts in agricultural business, production and marketing. And, you’ll have the opportunity to network with other experienced growers including the farmers in the Maine Farms for the Future Program.

Each session begins at 9. Classes are held at the Kennebec Valley Community College – Farm Center in Hinckley and multiple farm/family members may attend. You can sign up for all six sessions, or register only for those sessions that are of most interest to you. You can also participate remotely via ZOOM for any or all sessions.

COURSE DATES: 12/12, 1/16, 1/23, 2/6, 2/13, 2/27
$275 per farm for all six sessions or $50 per session
Click here to view more detailed information, including curriculum outlines for each session.

Here’s what some of last year’s participants had to say about the course:
“Worth every penny = take it.”
“This is the best option you have in Maine.”
“I would encourage them to take it no matter what their experience level is.”
“Do it”.
Contact Jed Beach, FarmSmart Business Services jed@farmsmartmaine.com or 207-370-9238.

You’re Invited – Please Join Us for our Annual Banquet November 7th!

All are welcome! We hope all of you interested in WCSWCD can join us for an evening of good company, good food and a talk by Morten Moesswilde, Maine Forest Service District Forester for Waldo County. Catch up with other folks interested in farms, forests and conservation in Waldo County, and hear what we’ve been up to. Conservation awards will also be presented. Cost is $10 per person.

The event will be held November 7th from 5:30-8:00pm at Aghaloma Farm in Knox, 270 Shibles Rd, Knox, ME 04986, Map: https://goo.gl/maps/hFSvGfnWKZL2

The Evening’s Agenda

5:30-6:00 Social hour: cider and tea
6:00-7:00 Dinner – See menu below
7:00-8:00 Dessert and Presentations:
 7:00-7:15 Programs in 2018 – Aleta McKeage
 7:15- 7:40 Talk by Morton Moesswilde, District Forester for Waldo County
   7:40-8:00 Conservation Awards

Menu

Choice of roast pork or chicken cordon bleu

Roasted red potatoes

Green beans

Apple crisp rolls

Don’t Miss Our Next Woodland Stewardship Tour Sept. 27th

Waldo County Soil & Water Conservation District and Maine Forest Service’s series of short field tours highlighting forest stewardship and conservation continues.

Thursday, September 27, 3:00-5:00 p.m. Tour of the Newell Tree Farm, Thorndike –  Join us for this multi-faceted tour of the 2018 Maine Outstanding Tree Farmer runner-up. Don Newell has been managing this property for multiple resources for decades, and his efforts are impressive. We’ll take a look at thinning & regeneration projects, as well as invasive plant control treatments, wildlife enhancements, and trail/bridge projects. In a short two hours we’ll only see a fraction of Don’s work, but easily enough to provide any landowner with ideas and inspiration for managing their own woodlands.

Meet at the Newell property, on Ward Hill Road, just over 0.5 miles east from Route 220, just before the Unity/Thorndike town line. Turn in at the Newell Tree Farm sign and park on either side of the driveway.

These workshops are open to the general public, as well as landowners, foresters, loggers, and others interested in the stewardship of trees and woodlands. They offer a brief, two-hour opportunity for observation, questions, and discussion.

This event is free and open to the public, and involves walking outdoors (moderate difficulty), and will occur rain, snow, or shine. Please dress for field conditions. For more information contact Aleta McKeage, Technical Director of Waldo County Soil and Water Conservation District at 207-218-5311 or Morten Moesswilde, Midcoast District Forester with the Maine Forest Service, at 207-441-2895.