November 16, 2011

Invasive Species Threatens Stewart Park

Print More

An invasive species of Chinese beetle threatens to destroy Stewart Park’s ash tree population, Jeanne Grace, forestry technician, warned at a Common Council meeting Wednesday night. “[These beetles] will kill all the ash trees,” Grace said. “A lot of these ash trees have been here since the 1920s, but they won’t last once the beetles come.”Though there has not been an infestation in the park yet, the city will preemptively remove 10 ash trees in and around Stewart Park that would be in danger of collapsing during an infestation. It will plant replacements of a different species. On Wednesday, the Common Council unanimously approved a $5,600 grant for the removal from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, with the promise of additional matching funds.Grace said that although the grant cannot prevent the death of many of Ithaca’s ash trees, it will help preserve the “rich foliage” of Stewart Park. To Grace, it was especially important to keep the park, one of Ithaca’s largest, attractive.“Stewart Park is one of the few places in Ithaca where local residents can come for lake and shore access at no cost at all,” she said. “It’s an extremely significant part of Ithaca’s nature scene, and no one wants to see it wither away.”The invasive beetle species, called the Emerald Ash Borer, will be particularly deleterious due to its proximity to the Stewart Park playground, according to the resolution approved by the Common Council. The resolution also states that although Ithaca has already removed several trees from Stewart Park, it lacked the funds both to remove 10 more trees by 2013 and to plant 15 to 20 new trees its says are needed to diversify the park’s ecosystem. The Emerald Ash Borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees since it first appeared in America in Detroit, according to The Ithaca Journal. The Journal also reported that the species is expected to spread eastward through New York State, wreaking arboreal havoc as it goes.Prof. Mark Whitmore, natural resources, said that while individual trees can be protected from the Emerald Ash Borer with pesticide treatments, there is nothing to be done to prevent the local and regional spread of the beetles.“There is nothing we can do to stop this,” Whitmore said. “The most important thing we can do as a community is to be aware of our liabilities. This is a potentially huge public health threat.”Besides the imminent threat to Stewart Park, Whitmore said that the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer would create a ”staggering economic impact” on an urban environment such as Ithaca, where falling trees means thousands of dollars in property damages.Grace added that she expects to encounter public resistance in the next phases of this effort.“It’s hard for people to see large trees get taken down, especially since many of these trees have been at Stewart Park since it was founded,” Grace said. Still, Whitmore said that he was pleased with the proposed actions by the City of Ithaca.“This plan is beautiful: well thought-out, well ahead of time,” he said. “There is no Emerald Ash Borer anywhere near Ithaca, but we need to be ready when there are.”

Original Author: Jacob Glick