One day the trees were there and the next almost all the trees along Richter Farm Road were gone.
The trees, all of which were of the Ash Tree variety, were cut down and removed in recent weeks by the Montgomery County Department of Transportation’s Division of Highway Services because they were infected with the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, an invasive insect from northern Asia which has been killing trees from Massachusetts south to North Carolina and as far west as Iowa and Missouri for many years.
The Emerald Ash Borer or Agrilus planipennis is an invasive wood-boring insect from Asia. The metallic-green adult beetles feed on the leaves of ash trees; the larvae live and feed on the inner bark, their tunnels cut off water and nutrients resulting in rapid tree mortality.
“The trees on Richter Farm were all infected with the Emerald Ash Borer and in pretty bad shape,” according to Josh Faust, the public outreach coordinator for MCDOT’s Division of Highway Services. “The decision was made by the Tree Maintenance Section to remove them all.”
MCDOT has removed dozens of trees along the curbs and in the median of Richter Farm Road from Great Seneca Highway to Fable Drive.
“Generally, the [MCDOT] policy is to not remove the infected trees unless they are in the late stages of declining heath or pose a safety risk. These trees were on their last legs,” said Faust.
The green beetles have invaded Montgomery County and are a threat to the trees along roadways, on private property, and in the County’s vast park and forest lands. The beetle feeds on the trees causing them to die within one to three years. While only an estimated two percent of the trees in Montgomery County are ash trees, they make up an estimated 20 percent of trees located in stream valleys on parkland.
Faust said that local homeowners associations and property management firms along the Richter Farm Road corridor, where the trees were cut down, had been informed of the removal efforts.
According to the Montgomery County Department of Parks Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan, released in May of 2016, “Montgomery Parks in collaboration with state and local agencies is addressing the Emerald Ash Borer infestation as an urgent and critical issue that has the potential to significantly impact safety, environmental quality, natural habitat balance and increase invasive weed populations in our Parks. The fiscal impact could easily exceed five million dollars.”
“In 2003,” the Parks Department Management Plan continues, “the non-native, invasive emerald ash borer was found in Prince George’s County where infested plant material was mistakenly delivered to a tree nursery. After failed attempts to contain [the insect], in 2012, it was found in Montgomery County by the Maryland Department of Agriculture. The Emerald Ash Borer has spread across the county and is causing the premature death of thousands of ash trees in our county. After finding two acres of dead ash trees in Rock Creek Park along the Rock Creek Trail, Montgomery Parks staff realized that this insect is a significant threat to the safety of the general public, our staff and park property. We expect Emerald Ash Borer to kill the majority of ash trees within the next 5-10 years. The death of native forest ash trees will create large areas of standing dead trees, result in an open canopy that encourages invasion of non-native invasive plants, reduce water and air quality and quickly become a safety hazard. Ash trees near amenities and trails are a serious concern for safety because EAB infestation quickly weakens the wood leading to tree breakage and shattering branches.”
In the Emerald Ash Borer Management Plan, the Parks Department said that there were three types of ash trees found in Montgomery County Parks. The Green Ash Tree is the most common type of ash tree and can be found all over MoCo.
The Black Ash Tree was rare in MoCo, but the few black ash trees in Montgomery Parks are located in Hoyle’s Mill Conservation Park in Boyds and in isolated pockets along Rock Creek Trail.
The White Ash Tree is found mostly in the northern sections of MoCo. White ash is especially prevalent in Little Bennett Regional Park in Clarksburg.
Just as the MCDOT is working to remove infected and dying trees which could become a danger to motorists and pedestrians, the Parks Department is working to remove potentially dangerous infected trees from parkland.
“Montgomery Parks has an active policy to maintain the safety of patrons on parkland from potential damages or injury resulting from trees at ‘high risk’ of failure,” according to the Management Plan. “Ash trees, when attacked by EAB, die quickly and create acute hazards because they ‘shatter,’ ‘snap,’ or break easily once they are infested. This scenario creates an urgent need for removal of dying trees that are located in proximity to a park amenity e.g. playground, paved trail, parking lot, parkway, bridge, shelter, or building.”
In May of 2016, the Parks Department said that it did not have enough funding to manage the issues created by the Emerald Ash Borer. “Our budget has insufficient funds to manage the massive devastation left in the wake of Emerald Ash Borer infestation. Within FY16 alone, an additional $800,000 is required to remove hazardous trees for park patron safety along the Beach Drive corridor of Rock Creek Stream Valley Park. Additional funds will be required starting in FY17 (which began in July of 2016) for continued removal, reforestation, and treatment. Based on our initial assessment, costs to address this problem, countywide, could exceed five million dollars.”
Montgomery County Parks asked for an additional $400,000 in the FY17 budget to slow the death of thousands of trees along 34 miles of paved trails in County Parklands as well as funding to hire a full-time staffer to oversee and manage the efforts to deal with the havoc the invasive pest has created in Montgomery County’s parkland.
From the MCDOT side of the fight against the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle, the Division of Highway Services is using parasitoids, which are insects whose larvae live as parasites that eventually kill their hosts, as one way to attempt to limit the damage the ash borer can do.
“Countywide, this will be a process, over several years, of dealing with the dead and dying ash trees,” said Faust. “I can’t give an exact budget for specifically ash trees as there is no specific line item just for ash trees. However, the pruning/removal budget — which the ash tree removal comes out of – is roughly around $2 million a year.”
While MCDOT continues to find and locate Ash trees which may need to be removed, Faust said he was unaware of any roads in the Germantown/Clarksburg area which will require the removal of dozens of trees like Richter Farm Road. “There most certainly are more trees in Germantown infected with the ash borer. However, I don’t know of any entire block pruning efforts like those on Richter Farm.”
Faust said that the MCDOT does plan to replace the trees along Richter Farm Road but specifics on what type of tree when that will happen, and how much that might cost have yet to be worked out.
Of course, any ash tree on private property is equally susceptible to the ravages of the Emerald Ash Borer, but many homeowners may not know if they have an ash tree on their property. The EmeraldAshBorer.info page contains a file on recognizing an ash tree, as well as a file on the signs and symptoms of an Emerald Ash Borer infection.
Top: The mounds of mulch are the only sign that the Ash trees along Richter Farm Road once stood there. Dozens of trees were cut down MCDOT because they were infected with the Emerald Ash Borer beetle.
Next: The Emerald Ash Borer beetle, the metallic-green adult beetles feed on the leaves of ash trees. Courtesy the Emerald Ash Borer info page.
Next: The Emerald Ash Borer larvae live and feed on the inner bark, their tunnels cut off water and nutrients resulting in rapid tree mortality. Courtesy the Emerald Ash Borer info page.
Next: Trees were removed from the sides of the Richter Farm Road as well as the middle median.
Next: A map of the quarantine area in the U.S. for the Emerald Ash Borer beetle. Courtesy USDA.
Video: MCDOT introduced parasitoids, which are insects whose larvae live as parasites that eventually kill their hosts, as one way to attempt to limit the damage the ash borer can do. Video courtesy MCDOT.
Next: MCDOT removed the infected Ash Trees on Richter Farm Road from Great Seneca Highway to Fable Road.
Other Photos by Germantown Pulse