The emerald ash borer is wiping out ash tree populations throughout the country. Depicted here are dead ash trees along Middle Road that were were removed by the town highway department last week. Photo: Peter Blasl

A beetle that bores into the trunks of ash trees and feeds on the inner bark, has killed hundreds of the popular landscape trees in the local area and is responsible for the loss of ash trees across the state.

The emerald ash borer, a metallic green beetle, was found in New York in 2009 and was first reported on Long Island in 2018.

Riverhead Highway Superintendent Mike Zaleski said his department or contractors have removed over 100 dead or dying ash trees along local roads. Most recently, crews took down dead and dying ash trees along Middle Road last week. Declining and dead trees can fall apart and present a hazard to people and property, so the highway department has been removing them when they are located in the public right-of-way.

It is very hard to detect early signs of an emerald ash borer infestation, Dan Gilrein, an entomologist with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County said. When you notice dieback and damage, it’s usually too late to save the tree, he said.

Dying ash trees on Ostrander Avenue in Riverhead. Photo: Peter Blasl

Emerald ash borer is an exotic beetle that was discovered in southeastern Michigan near Detroit in the summer of 2002, according to the Emerald Ash Borer Information Network. The adult beetles nibble on ash foliage but cause little damage. The larvae (the immature stage) feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the tree’s ability to transport water and nutrients. And that’s what kills the trees.

The beetle probably arrived in the United States on solid wood packing material carried in cargo ships or airplanes originating in its native Asia, according to the information network. It is now found in 38 states, and the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Manitoba.

Riverhead Town Highway Department crews worked to take down dead ash trees on Middle Road lsat week. Photo: Peter Blasl

Gilrein said you can see ash tree damage all around Riverhead. They are under “heavy attack,” he said.

“We will probably lose all of our ash trees,” Gilrein said.

The die-off is costly to municipalities. Removing the trees is an expensive task and the towns don’t have the financial resources to replace them, he said.

Zaleski confirmed that there is no current plan — or budget — to replace ash trees, popular “street trees” planted along many local roadways.

Southern pine beetle killing off pine trees across Suffolk

These dead pine trees on Middle Road near Doctors Path were killed by the southern pine beetle, which is now widespread in Suffolk County. Photo: Peter Blasl

If you’ve been noticing dead pine trees in the area, it’s likely the work of another non-native bark beetle that’s been wreaking havoc on Long Island. The southern pine beetle, native to the southeastern United States, has been expanding its range up the East Coast. Warming of extreme winter temperatures in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast is likely contributing to this expansion, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

It is one of the most destructive pests of the southern pine forest and is now widespread in Suffolk County, where it was first reported in New York in October 2014.

Its devastation is becoming visible all over Long Island. Its damage is very evident driving through the pine barrens on the Long Island Expressway, Gilrein said. Dead, formerly infested trees have brownish-red needles and trees with an active infestation have yellowing needles.

All hard pine trees are susceptible to an infestation of the southern pine beetle, including pitch pine, red pine and white pine.

Dead and dying pitch pine trees on Middle Road in Riverhead. Photo: Peter Blasl

In New York, pitch pines have been attacked by southern pine beetle more than any other tree species. The majority of the pitch pines killed by southern pine beetles have been in the Long Island Central Pine Barrens. The pine barrens are particularly susceptible to a widespread, rapidly moving infestation because there is here is an absence of fire or other management to thin and maintain the pine stands, according to the DEC.

The adult beetle enters the tree through crevices in the bark and then tunnels in the tissue just beneath the bark, disrupting the flow of nutrients. Infected trees almost always die as their defenses are overwhelmed by thousands of attacking beetles. Trees typically die in two to four months.

“It’s going to be something we just have to figure out how to live with,” Gilrein said. “And it’s making us rethink things about how we manage our native forest areas, how do we intervene or what do we do to try to prevent these kinds of outbreaks from occurring,” he said.

Spotted lanternfly infestations moving east in Suffolk, and pose a threat to vineyards

Spotted lanternfly nymphs and adults. Photos: U.S. National Parks Service

Gilrein said another pest to be concerned about is the spotted lanternfly, an invasive plant-hopper. The adults are active in late summer to mid-fall. There are populations established as far east as Holtsville, he said. There have been sightings farther east on the island, but so far, these are believed to have been “hitch hikers.”

They don’t bite, sting, or damage structures, but do pose a serious threat to vineyards, according to an update on new plant and pest and disease threats published by the Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Riverhead.

“The adults resemble moths, with distinctive gray or tan front wings spotted with black. They are most likely seen on their favorite plants like tree-of-heaven, red and silver maples, walnut, grapes, hops … but they’ll feed on dozens of other kinds of plants, too. They’re not particularly hard to kill but without effective natural enemies the populations build to high levels” according to the paper, which Gilrein authored with Margery Daughtrey, a plant pathologist at Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science.

Potential sightings should be reported to the State Department of Agriculture through its reporting page or by email or to Cornell Diagnostic Lab staff at CCE’s Riverhead office at 423 Griffing Avenue. (Phone: 631-727-4126. Email: [email protected] or [email protected]). Include location, contact info and, especially, clear photos if possible.

Besides documenting the sighting, people are urged to kill the insect if possible. They’re not particularly hard to kill but without effective natural enemies, the populations build to high levels.

For more information on the spotted lanternfly, visit the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County website and Cornell University New York State Integrated Pest Management page.

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