By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY Intrigued by those purple boxes you’ve seen hanging on trees around Sullivan County?
They’re traps for the emerald ash borer, a threat so significant to the nation’s ash trees that the federal government has contracted state environmental agencies to install these devices even where the ash borers have yet to arrive.
“All of the traps are purchased by USDA-APHIS [U.S. Dept. of Agriculture-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service] and given to us, their crews or their contractors for placement and monitoring,” explained NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Research Scientist Jerry Carlson.
According to DEC spokesperson Wendy Rosenbach, Sullivan County hasn’t yet had a confirmed ash borer infestation though neighboring Ulster County has.
The iridescent insects could literally exterminate the state’s 900 million ash trees, which is why the DEC has made this week Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week.
Tens of millions of ash trees have already been killed elsewhere in the United States by the borer, says the DEC.
To help slow the borer’s spread, people are asked to not move firewood and to look for and report the signs of the beetle on ash trees. Larvae are creamy white in color and are found under the bark, so they are not obvious, but their expanding S-shaped galleries (tunnels) may be seen if the bark is removed. Larvae themselves are hard to see.
According to the DEC, when adult beetles emerge from the tree, they leave distinctive D-shaped (half-moon-shaped) exit holes in the outer bark of branches and the trunk. Their presence typically goes undetected until trees show symptoms of being infested.
For more information, log on to www.dec.ny.gov.
How the traps work
The trap’s purple color and its attractant, raw hexanol (a naturally occurring odor common to tea tree sap), lure ash borers into the box, from which they cannot escape, said Carlson.
As the borers’ season of activity really doesn’t ramp up till June, he explained that traps continue to be set mostly along roads and on public lands one trap for every four square miles in a statewide grid that includes Sullivan County’s 1,000 square miles.
“High-risk areas” like campgrounds, truck stops and factories may get their own traps, too, for which the landowner neither has to pay nor is compensated.
“Indeed,” said Carlson, “it is to their benefit should a trap be placed in their ash trees.”
The USDA is maintaining a national database for all trapping results, he added, and the boxes will be removed before winter.
“The plan is to have all traps deployed [statewide] by the middle of June and to go through to the middle of September.”
The boxes currently cannot be purchased privately, but Carlson said the plan is to make them available to individuals and organizations next year.