Pests killing forest — threat isn't "real" until it hits trees at home

Mark NaleThe Asplundh tree trimmers are working on my property — clearing the right-of-way for West Penn Power. They cut down a dead ash tree yesterday, and today I was busy "processing" it into firewood when I noticed the tell-tale D-shaped holes — telltale evidence of the emerald ash borer.

Dang!

I knew that the emerald ash borer had reached Centre County, where I reside, but I didn't know that they already had a foothold on my little piece of paradise. I conducted a tree-checking tour after that revelation. Sure enough, I discovered several other even larger dead ash trees — also likely victims of the emerald ash borer.

Judging from past history – all of the ash trees, a relatively common species on my 35 acres, are now doomed to yet another foreign pest. Tw years ago, I discovered the hemlock woolly adelgid on my property, so now I am facing a double forest threat — with little that I can do except watch the destruction.

Together, these two accidentally-introduced insect pests will likely kill one third of the trees on my property — all of the eastern hemlocks and all of the white ash trees. I expect that the change to the ecosystem will be gradual, but nonetheless dramatic.

The changes:

Ash seeds will be missing in the diet of ruffed grouse, wild turkeys, cardinals and many other song birds. Ash browse will be lessened for deer, too.

Hemlocks will no longer provide valuable shade to the trout stream that flows through my property. Summer water temperatures might get too hot for native brook trout and they could die. Chickadees and red squirrels will no longer have hemlock seeds as a major winter food source. The wild turkeys, owls and ruffed grouse will miss one of their favorite roosting trees.

Because of the trees' shape, the first areas to be clear of snow are always under hemlock trees. Deer, grouse, squirrels and wild turkeys will miss these snow-free feeding areas.

On the plus side, if there really is a plus side, I will gain several truckloads of easy-to-split ash firewood, and the forest floor will receive a lot more light — hopefully helping to generate a lush undergrowth. This could benefit both deer and grouse.

My brief list only scratches the surface. All things in a forest ecosystem are connected, and to be honest, no one can predict all of the long-term effects. I will be watching and learning as the changes unfold.

Categories: PenBlogs, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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