ITHACA, N.Y. –– Between January and March of 2021 crews on East Hill will be working to remove thousands of ash trees infected with the invasive emerald ash borer –– an insect that has been killing trees slowly for the past few years.

The effort to remove trees beyond treatable help aims to reduce potential harm to people and property which can happen when dead trees become too weak to stand and eventually fall. Dubbed the “Emerald Ash Borer Action Plan,” the removal plan has been created through input from members of Facilities and Campus Services; Cornell Botanic Gardens; the Grounds Department; the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Community Relations; Cornell Risk Management; and the Cornell Real Estate Department.

The latest phase (phase 2) of the plan includes the removal of 1,700 infected trees on and off campus –– letters will be sent coming weeks to notify local municipalities and neighbors of the ash abatements.

Phase 1 of the EAB Action Plan began in 2019 and continued through 2020, during which Cornell staff treated 172 “high-value” trees with pesticides, a protocol that must be repeated every two to three years. These treated ash trees were in the Arts, Agriculture and Engineering quads; in Cornell natural areas; and special collection trees from across North America and Europe within the Cornell Botanic Gardens’ F.R. Newman Arboretum. Additionally, 430 trees were removed over the last two years from Sapsucker Woods, Varna, main campus and limited on-campus natural areas.

In phase 2, from January to mid-March 2021, contractors hired by the university will remove infested off-campus trees in “high-priority areas” (high traffic areas and areas adjacent to private property), including the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, Varna, Ellis Hollow and Baker Hill.

Also as part of phase 2, the university will be posting informational signs at entrances to university-owned trails open to the public informing people about why trees are being cut, closing trails in limited areas because they contain trees that are too costly and/or difficult to remove and making users aware of potential risks in less-frequented trails on and off campus, including in the Botanic Gardens and Natural Areas, where trees will be left alone but could pose a risk when they die.

Phase 3 of the EAB Action Plan, set to take place concurrently with phase 2, will take place in campus natural areas including land around Cascadilla and Fall Creek gorges, Beebe Lake, Mann Library Slope, Palmer Woods, Fall Creek Natural Area, the Mundy Wildflower Garden and portions of the F.R. Newman Arboretum. Phase 3 entails that a total of 505 trees will be removed by contractors, and up to 300 trees be taken down by university staff between January and March of 2021.

Notably, Cornell arborists will be surveying for trees that survive the EAB outbreaks, in hopes of breeding resistant varieties.

To replace the trees the university is losing, Cornell Botanic Gardens is in the process of launching a new fundraising effort –– the “Future Forests Initiative” –– to replant climate change resistant tree varieties. So far donations have already allowed the botanic gardens to plant 200 new trees in 2020.

As the infestation continues in the Ithaca area, members of the public should remain vigilant of their own ash trees –– signs that an ash tree is infested with EAB includes thin canopy or dead branches in the top and center of the canopy. There will also likely be woodpecker damage, called “blonding” where sections of bark take on a light blonde color (as opposed to the normal gray color) due to woodpeckers’ excavation to find EAB larva under the bark.

If you don’t know if your back yard foliage is an ash tree, a helpful tree identification guide can be found here.

Moreover, if you have a question about whether the tree in your yard is an ash, you can contact the Parks and Forestry office and they can confirm tree species through photos (leaf, twig and bark) or a site visit if necessary. Please contact the Forestry Technician, Kevin Vorstadt with questions at  kvorstadt@cityofithaca.org.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com