TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – Cornell University* has begun to cut down ash trees on school properties because of the spread of the emerald ash borer. The insect is an invasive species that destroys the trees.
Emerald ash borers were first found in Tompkins County in Cornell’s Arnot Forest in 2018. They lay eggs just under the bark. When they hatch the larvae begin to eat the tree, slowly killing it.
Todd Bittner is Director of Cornell’s 3,500 acres of natural areas. Standing just off a trail through the Mundy Wildflower Garden, while wearing a face mask, Bittner talked about why Cornell only plans to cut some ash trees. A few feet behind him is a pile of freshly cut, small ash trees.
“As the ash borer population increases and the tree health declines, they become a safety hazard,” he said.
“If there’s a risk that the tree could fall on the target while somebody’s there then we’re going to remove it,” Bittner further explained. “Otherwise, we leave the trees to decline naturally.”
Cornell has said it plans to cut over 1,700 ash trees on its properties. Bittner said most of the cut trees like those nearby will be left on the ground for ecological reasons.
“They provide habitat for cavity-nesting birds, woodpeckers and that’s perfectly fine,” he said. “The main goal here is just public safety.”
Bittner brought along a draw knife. He used it to peel a thin strip of bark off one of the trees on the ground to see if there are signs of the insects.
Bittner said what Cornell is doing won’t stop the infestation.
“A thousand or a few thousand trees sounds like a lot. There’s millions of ash trees in New York and so whether we remove these trees or not will really have zero bearing on controlling the emerald ash borer population in any particular area,” he added.
Bittner said some ash trees will be treated with insecticides to protect them.
“In our arboretum, 40 species from across North America as part of an ash collection is used as a teaching resource and a research resource,” he explained. “So those trees are treated and we intend to keep them alive.”
He said there are several dozen others across the campus that will be protected for educational and ornamental reasons.
At the same time, Cornell will be planting native trees and plants to help preserve ecosystems and for carbon sequestration.
According to Bittner, the whole project will take several years.
Full Disclosure: Cornell University is a WSKG underwriter.