The insect is the emerald ash borer (EAB), a bark beetle that originated in East Asia and was first detected in North America in 2002. Since then, the EAB has been implicated in the death of more than 40 million ash trees in the United States, with an estimated 7.5 billion trees still at risk. Infested trees invariably die, usually within two to four years. Meanwhile, municipalities must confront the cost of removing dead or dying ash trees along public roadways, where falling limbs might threaten pedestrians and vehicles.
In Ulster County, the presence of EAB-infested ash trees was initially confirmed about a year and a half ago in Ruby and at the KOA campground on Route 212 in Saugerties, according to Woodstock resident Jim Hanson, who is directing a local effort to identify affected trees. Hanson, a prominent member of the Comeau Trails Task Force, was recently appointed to the Woodstock Environmental Commission.
The Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership (CRISP), in concert with the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development (CCCD) and various state and regional agencies and organizations, is coordinating an inventory of ash trees on public roads in 20 communities in the vicinity of Ruby, which is considered the epicenter of the outbreak. Volunteers will conduct the town-by-town inventory.
The ash tree street inventory in Woodstock will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 9. CRISP will host a training workshop for volunteers from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 7, at the Community Center, and a second training session on April 9, before the inventory begins. Participants will receive instruction in ash tree identification, the signs and symptoms of EAB infestation, and inventory techniques. For information, contact CRISP coordinator Meredith Taylor by phone at 845-586-2611 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Although ash trees are reportedly more numerous in Saugerties than in Woodstock, the Saugerties street inventory, performed last weekend, identified fewer than ten ash trees on village property between the sidewalk and the street, said Taylor in an April 5 interview.
In Woodstock, officials first became aware of the EAB infestation through a presentation to the Town Board by Alan White, executive director of the CCCD, following the outbreak’s detection in Ruby. The board asked Hanson to undertake a local assessment of the problem. Joining Hanson in coordinating the local program is Michael Callan, a forester with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), who is overseeing a regionwide response to the infestation. The DEC is one of CRISP’s principal partners in the EAB program, along with agencies and organizations such as the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, the Nature Conservancy, and the CCCD.
One prong of the Woodstock program is community education. To that end, Hanson has conducted informational sessions attended by residents and representatives of organizations including the Woodstock Land Conservancy and the CCCD. A second prong is a survey that seeks to identify, and mark with a red ribbon, all ash trees, whether healthy or infested, between Comeau Drive and Playhouse Lane in Woodstock.
The survey will complement the CRISP inventory, which is limited to ash trees on or near public roads and sidewalks. Conducting the survey are a Woodstock Day School teacher, Leith Rogovin, and his students, under the supervision of Vern Rist, an arborist and plant pathologist. Meanwhile, said Hanson, Callan has observed a concentration of diseased ash trees near the parking lot of the Maverick Family Health Center on Zena Road. Individual trees with symptoms of EAB invasion have been noted on Van Dale Road and in the vicinity of the Zena cornfield.
Any assessment of the EAB problem depends on the ability to identify an ash tree and to recognize evidence of infestation. Information, including guidelines for those tasks, can be found on the CCCD website, www.catskillcenter.org.
Ash trees may be preserved through inoculation with a chemical, but the procedure must be performed by a qualified arborist, said Hanson. Diseased trees growing along public thoroughfares must be removed, he added, noting that municipalities can mitigate the total cost of such a project by removing a few trees at a time.
“Infested trees are going to die,” said Hanson, a longtime Woodstock resident who is a retired social worker and a member of the town’s fire department. Taylor, the CRISP coordinator, who is affiliated with the Arkville-based CCCD, noted that ash trees, account for approximately seven percent of all forest cover in New York State. At this time it is unknown whether native trees, such as oaks or maples, or an invasive species will replace ash trees following their anticipated decimation throughout the state.
The results of the ash tree survey and inventory will assist Woodstock in gauging the magnitude of local EAB infestation and the cost of dealing with the problem, said town supervisor Jeff Moran in an April 6 interview. When the information is available, he said, the Town Board will consider its options. Choices facing the town may include saving selected “specimen” ash trees through inoculation and opening a competitive bidding process aimed at hiring an arborist to remove diseased trees that pose a threat to public safety.++
RUPCO suit dismissed
State Supreme Court justice Christopher Cahill on April 1 dismissed a Woodstock resident’s Article 78 lawsuit challenging the town Planning Board’s environmental review and conditional approval of the 53-unit affordable housing project that the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO) proposes to build behind the Bradley Meadows shopping plaza.
Robin Segal, who lives in the vicinity of the proposed Woodstock Commons housing development, filed the lawsuit last July, naming as defendants the Planning Board and its chairman, Paul Shultis Jr., and the Town Board and Woodstock supervisor Jeff Moran. RUPCO and EVK Realty, the current owner of the project site, were subsequently added as defendants.
Town attorney Drayton Grant sought to have the lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that Segal failed to include the additional defendants before a statute of limitations had expired. Segal, who is not a lawyer, protested in letters to the court that Grant misled her into allowing the statute to expire. In his decision to dismiss the Article 78 petition, Cahill rejected Segal’s claim to that effect, which he characterized as “unsworn.” Segal interpreted that characterization as a reference to an oversight, her failure to have her letters notarized.
Another Article 78 petition, filed on March 9 by Segal and six other Woodstock residents, still awaits a decision by Cahill. That action seeks to compel the town to perform a detailed analysis of its water system before granting the project access to the municipal water supply. RUPCO has filed an application with the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for a modified permit that would allow the requested access.
Rebecca Crist, an environmental analyst with the DEC, said in an April 5 interview that the DEC is reviewing the application for completeness, having rejected a previous RUPCO application as incomplete. If the current application is approved in time to meet an April 8 deadline, the agency will proceed with a technical review of the application’s contents. Even if the DEC approves the application, the question of whether to provide town water to the project could ultimately be decided by a vote of the Town Board. ++