Loggers in snowy forests are cutting down ash trees like there’s no tomorrow, seeking to stay one step ahead of a fast-spreading beetle killing trees in dozens of states.
The emerald ash borer has been chewing through trees from Maine to Colorado for about two decades. Some fear areas in the invasion zone, such as Upstate New York, might have only five to seven years of ash logging left.
Farther south, the situation is dire. In Maryland, hardwood exporter Mark Lipschitz said he can barely source ash anymore from the southern part of Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“Emerald ash borer is probably the most thorough killing machine that we’ve come across in my career over the last 35 years,” said Tom Gerow, general manager for the Wagner Companies, which specializes in lumber that is used to make furniture.
Wagner is sawing ash trees at its mills at about double the rate it used to.
The beetle was first discovered in the states in 2002 in Michigan and has since destroyed tens of millions of ash trees in more than 30 states. Native to Asia, they may have arrived in shipping pallets. No one knows for sure. But it’s clear that the emerald ash borer kills almost every tree it attacks. There are no signs that the beetle will stop spreading anytime soon, with states in the Northwest on guard.
At the Wagner mill in Owego, New York, squiggly scars from a larval tunnel were partially exposed on a stacked log where the bark came off. The wood inside is still good for lumber, but the markings show the tree was on borrowed time.
Winter is a prime time for logging. The frozen ground and leaf-free trees can make it easier to get to and drag out the logs.
Still, an ash tree usually takes several years to show obvious signs of decline.
George Robinson, a University at Albany biology professor and a member of the state Invasive Species Advisory Committee, doesn’t think the ash trees will be entirely wiped out. But they’ll be greatly reduced.
“The hope,” he said, “is by collecting seeds and some specimens there will be a future for the ash.”