Should I harvest my ash trees ahead of an Emerald Ash Borer infestation? Many family forest owners in the U.S. have grappled with this decision. In this week’s blog, landowner Frank Winkler explains how he prepared for and oversaw an ash-only harvest on his Catskill woodlot. He’s been busy after the harvest as well, participating in an integrated pest management study, promoting vegetative regrowth on skid trails and replanting red oak acorns among the logging slash.
In 2017, I knew the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) insect infestation was getting close and a decision needed to be made on what, if anything, should be done with the ash trees on my 100-acre woodlot. Parts of some stands had over 50% ash, but most of these trees were not large in diameter. I had a nice commercial harvest conducted by my forester in 2012 and I knew that the current value of the ash would not be that high. I decided to make an accurate inventory of the ash trees I had.
I marked and measured each ash tree over 12 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH, 4.5 feet above the ground.) I tallied a total of 271 trees over 15 inches DBH that I thought (as a non-professional) had timber value. I did my non-professional volume calculation from an on-line source and came up with a volume of 84,000 board feet (or 84 MBF). This seemed like a viable amount for a harvest. I have a good skid trail system and landing, and I preferred having some financial return instead of dead trees falling down in my woodlot.
I sat down with my forester and showed him my information. He suggested that I do this small harvest on shares with the mill, and perhaps use the same mill that won the bid on my neighbor’s standing marked timber to reduce mobilization cost. Depending on travel distance and the number and size of logging machines, it can cost a logger several thousand dollars to move onto a new site. Therefore, consolidating timber harvests with a neighbor represents a cost savings for both the logger and the landowners. I went ahead with this mill on a standard 50/50 basis. I am in the NYS 480a Forest Tax Law Program and had to get DEC approval (which was granted) before anything could be harvested.
Personally, I greatly prefer having a professional forester manage the harvest and bid the project, but this was a unique situation salvaging the ash. It wasn’t a large harvest, and I have some experience working with loggers.
I thought the harvest would take 4-5 weeks. We got started in July of 2018 and finished in … August 2019! The rains started a week after we started in 2018 with close to 10 inches per month throughout the rest of the summer and fall. Nothing could get done. Trails were exposed and the landing was a muddy mess. Finally, in July 2019 we could start up again and the job was completed by early August. The landing was cleaned up, skid trails regraded and adequate waterbars were installed to minimize erosion, and then I seeded the main trails. I am glad to be done with the disruption for another 10 years (hopefully).
Temporary skidder bridge used to get across the pond outlet.
Log truck full of ash logs.
During the harvest I helped the logger locate possibly new skid trails and introduced him to another neighbor who had an excellent ash stand next to mine that could be easily skidded out to my landing rather than be pulled up hill for half a mile to his landing. The logger took some of my trees high on my ridge over to my neighbor’s landing to avoid coming down and around rock ledges on my property. This improved harvest efficiency and represented another cost savings. I seeded both neighbors’ main trails and landings with my ATV-mounted seeder. This cooperation helped my neighbors, made the logging jobs more efficient for the logger, and allows me to hunt and hike on all these properties.
A seeded skid trail.
I ended up selling 80,000 board feet of timber and received $22,000, or $275 per MBF. This was close to my estimated volume and expected financial return. The logger did find EAB cavities (galleries) on 3 trees. It was definitely time to harvest.
Emerald Ash Borer galleries under the bark of an ash log.
Emerald Ash Borer larvae.
As I was finishing my harvest, I read from one of my many forestry contacts that APHIS (USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) was looking for sites to release parasitoid wasps that are very specific to only parasitizing the EAB. They evaluated my site and I agreed on the release. The EAB will have many young ash under 15 inches DBH to feed on. Hopefully, the wasps will keep the EAB in check and the loss of ash to a minimum. It will take years to know for sure.
An ash bolt containing parasitized EAB larvae attached to an ash tree. This is one way the parasitoid wasps are released on a property.
My current activity is to plant about 500 red oak acorns in the openings left after the harvest (along with some hickory and black walnut). I am trying to promote regeneration and diversity. I plant the acorns under the lopped tree tops left behind from the harvest. This will make it harder for deer to browse them. I don’t expect more than 20% to be successful seedlings. I will use some tree shelters on young seedlings that get started in prime locations. I expect to see many new ash, maple, birch, striped maple and some naturally seeded red oak growing in these same areas. Another important part of getting adequate regeneration will be to reduce deer numbers by hunting. Extra antler-less tags have been obtained and used to help achieve this.
Some of my woodlot activities go well beyond what’s required. I enjoy the work. It’s great exercise and therapy. I hope I can live long enough to see how it all turns out.