In early September 2018, I joined staff at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Agroforestry Resource Center in Acra, NY for a day of monitoring ash tree health and scouting for signs of emerald ash borer (EAB) at Siuslaw Model Forest. I had little experience with insect pest research, and to give you an idea about my tree ID skills, my wife Jess (also in attendance that day) calls me “the reckless naturalist”. Not to worry though, because ash trees are relatively easy to identify, plus Dr. Radka Wildova (our leader for the day) showed us how to set up a monitoring plot, assess canopy health, and identify tell-tale signs of EAB. These include multiple D-shaped holes, serpentine galleries, or places where woodpeckers have removed the outer bark and left extraction holes in the tree (aka blonding). Dr. Wildova, of the Ecological Research Institute, gave us some rules to follow: Each monitoring “plot” had to contain 40 ash trees spread across at least half an acre. Ash trees had to be native, naturally occurring, untreated for EAB, and > 4” in diameter at breast height. FYI, these instructions can be found at MonitoringAsh.org.
Dr. Radka Wildova showed us how to assess ash tree canopy health.
Definite sign of emerald ash borer: Multiple D-shaped holes in the bark.
Definite sign of emerald ash borer: Serpentine galleries.
The five of us wandered about Siuslaw Model Forest, stopping when we found an ash tree of interest. I used Avenza Maps to track our path and mark ash trees of interest. Avenza Maps uses a PDF map that is accessible on your smartphone, even without a cell phone signal. In previous blogs on MyWoodlot, Andrew Krutz and I have demonstrated how to use the program to map woodlots and scout for deer sign.
I tracked the path of our MaMA survey at Siuslaw Model Forest, dropping a pin for each ash tree of interest. The 14 dead trees are shown in red.
For each tree of interest, we recorded the tree tag number, species, canopy health class (1 is completely healthy, 5 is completely dead), GPS coordinates, and whether or not tell-tale signs of EAB were present. We ignored ash trees that were < 4” in diameter and dead ash that showed no definite signs of EAB. We tagged only live trees.
We tagged only live ash trees.
At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Why are you doing this?” The answer lies in the fact that a small fraction of ash trees will not only survive the onslaught, but – because of genetic resistance to EAB – will remain healthy after almost all the others have been killed. These trees are known as “lingering ash”, and the US Forest Service has shown that they can be used to breed EAB-resistant, locally adapted ash for restoration. However, the search for lingering ash needs to be done at just the right time, a couple of years after 95% of the ash have been killed by EAB. The monitoring plots are used to detect when this threshold has been reached, so that the search for precious lingering ash can be initiated, not just in the plots themselves but throughout the surrounding area.
Based on our field observations at Siuslaw, EAB was taking its toll. Of the 40 ash included in the plot, 14 had been killed by the beetle. Interestingly, around that same time (late-Sept. 2018), we found no sign of EAB at Lennox Model Forest in Delaware County, NY. It’s probably only a matter of time until the ash at Lennox are hit, but establishing these plots felt like we were doing something worthwhile.
Your job is not complete, however, until you have entered your data and photos at Anecdata.org. Go there and look for the project called MaMA Monitoring Plots Network. I must admit that it was a bit tough going until I learned how to enter the required information, but once I hit my stride, it was no problem. It took me about 20 minutes to enter data for 40 trees. Dr. Wildova tells me that it should now be much quicker, since the data entry protocol was recently streamlined and simplified.
In the end, I learned some new skills in identifying EAB sign/evaluating ash tree health and made some new friends. The MaMA Monitoring Plots Network is just one of four distinct citizen science projects of the Ecological Research Institute’s Managing and Monitoring Ash (MaMA) program – all of them will help the search for resistant trees, and some require just a few minutes of your time.You can visit MonitoringAsh.org to learn more about these projects, plus this website provides management guidance for facing the threat of EAB.