Invasion of Emerald Ash Borer needs addressing, Napanee Council hears

The flashily dressed Emerald Ash Borer is an invasive beetle that was discovered in Canada just over 20 years ago. However, as the Town of Greater Napanee Council heard at its meeting on Tuesday, Sep. 12, 2023, the problem hasn’t gone away, and the effects are now coming to a head.

Jeff Chestnut, an property management professional working in and around the Town of Napanee, presented a deputation to the Town Council about the jewel-toned miscreant that’s been quietly destroying our ecosystem for the last 20 years.

Chestnut described attending a property to work on some garden plans where he noticed a great number of trees were dead. “All their hardwoods were dead — giant hardwoods. And I kind of stupidly said, ‘Oh, that’s Dutch Elm Disease,’ because I grew up in Toronto where we really got hit with that, and I was quite familiar with that job.”

However, he was wrong; the dead trees were full of the little green invaders. He started looking around and began noticing all the dead trees in the area. Chestnut told Council, “I’m sure after tonight if you look around the fields and along the roadways, you’re going to start noticing, if you start really paying attention… The death of trees around here is staggering.”

The Ash Borer adult is metallic green in colour (but can also appear copper-coloured) and is about 8.5 millimetres long and one to 1.6 millimetres wide. Chestnut showed a picture of how the beetle damages the tree, saying, “As you can see, it gets in behind the bark and it starts zigging and zagging until the bark literally falls like an oversized coat. It just falls away from the tree. And once a tree is 30 per cent dead, there’s no saving it.”

Since the Ash Borer strictly affects ash trees, Chestnut described the importance of the ash tree in our area.

“First of all, [the ash] plays a big part in Indigenous life around here. It’s a unique tree that was used in basket-making. It also is a tree that can be burned right after you cut it, unlike other [wood that needs] to be cured before you start burning it. So it was a useful wood for the Indigenous and first peoples. It also is used to make furniture, [baseball] bats, cabinets, and flooring in our area in the past,” he explained.

Green and black ash grow in our wetlands, Chestnut said, and the leaves and seeds feed tadpoles, caddisflies, and aquatic organisms. This is one of the reasons frog populations are dropping, he said, noting that the anglers in the area would be affected by the dropping frog population.

The ash’s root base also helps change the pH level of the soil, explained Chestnut, “so it allows other hardwoods to grow… That’s why we’ve had such a unique forest in this area compared to our wetlands; we have both hardwoods and softwoods, and we can thank the ash for that. If they all die, this is going to change, and other trees are going to start getting sick and dying, too.”

“There are almost a thousand species that use the ash tree for food and places to live,” Chestnut pointed out, listing wood mice, certain native species of beetles, types of lichen, ducks, and turkeys. He went on to say that the damage to the ash will therefore impact hunting and fishing in the area.

“Our duck population is maybe a tenth of what it was 10 years ago, and that’s because the seeds that sit on the bottom of the water are no longer there to eat,” he detailed.

When the insect hit Canada in 2002, the federal government immediately implemented a call-in process for people to report the presence of the borer, as did the provincial government, but it was barely used. Given that this initiative did not work, Chestnut said, “now, we’re going to go with the solution that everything dies first, because we’re kind of caught in that trap now.”

He pointed out that ash trees have male and female flowers on separate trees, and only the female flowers develop into fruits. So it is important after the die-off that experts know which trees should be replaced with which sex to reestablish ash populations. And, as recently as last week, Ontario Hydro has been cutting down many damaged or dead ash trees, Chestnut said.

“And I’m not sure if you’ve gotten the phone calls yet, but I saw on Facebook that a few people were quite shocked to have their tree chopped down on their property and then left there,” he continued.

However, he pointed out, leaving infected trees on the property where they died is the law; they are meant to be burned or otherwise destroyed to prevent the spread of the Ash Borer. But there is no oversight of that process, and “we are not all aware of [the rules surrounding] it,” so people often use the wood or sell it to others for campfires and other uses, spreading the beetle to other areas, Chestnut expained. He suggested that there needs to be some incentive to help people destroy the trees on their properties, noting again that, by federal law, the trees are not supposed to leave the property.

He further pointed to Springside Park in Napanee, where 10 to 12 trees along the south side of the Napanee River are dead. That is why there are no ducks at the park, Chestnut explained, “and, as you see, once one invasive species hit[s], the cormorants come in instead of ducks and herons, and they start eating fish supply, and we go down the troubled path.”  

Chestnut stated that he did find a report from Public Works, written in 2020, that advised the careful removal of hazardous trees — but he pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as putting the municipality’s priorities out of step. He said he hoped his presentation would serve as a reminder to make this problem a priority again in this year’s budget, because “it will be more costly in the long run just to ignore it.”

“To leave the bush alone without thinning it is to expect a century [to pass] before recovery happens… We saw this year what forest fire does,” Chestnut added, reminding councillors that dead ash trees were basically tinder for the fires this year in Northern Quebec.

“We need to get citizen awareness, we need kids to learn about it… We need more trees that will benefit the town,” he concluded, recommending that fines be introduced for developers who plant ash trees and that a bylaw be considered that would prevent people from selling infected wood.

Those interested in learning more about Jeff Chestnut’s presentation on the Emerald Ash Borer can view the Council meeting on the Town’s YouTube channel or read Chestnut’s material (including a list of resources) in the file attached to the meeting agenda.

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