Pembroke – It has been a challenging year for Renfrew County forests and forestry in the county, but the decimation by the Gypsy Moth is of little threat compared to the classification of the abundant Black Ash as an endangered species.
“The decision has potential major implications for forestry, trails, public works and development,” County of Renfrew Forester Lacey Rose told Renfrew County council recently. “They (Black Ash) are everywhere.”
The Committee on the Status of Species at Risk in Ontario classified Black Ash as endangered in the 2019-2020 annual report, she said. Upon listing under the Endangered Species Act they are automatically protected from being “killed, harmed or harassed” and this includes prohibitions on the possessions, transportation, purchase or sale of the species. Unfortunately for Renfrew County, although other parts of the province might see Black Ash as threatened, that is not the case locally, she said.
“Many rural lots have a great habitat for Black Ash,” she said.
The county has submitted a document outlining their concerns about the classification of Black Ash as endangered. The document noted Black Ash is not usually harvested because even though it is abundant in the county, it is not often merchantable, is difficult to access and not in demand.
“However, it is rare that there would not be incidental felling or knocking over of ash to make a skid trail, brush or build a road, or when harvesting adjacent to water or wet areas of concern,” she noted in a letter to the province.
Since Black Ash is present in so many areas it is impossible to avoid it, she wrote. Because of the impending mortality of ash as the Emerald Ash Borer spreads, the ash trees are removed to encourage regeneration of other species.
“If it must remain standing or be assessed before felling to meet ESA (Endangered Species Act) requirements, these proactive management activities would likely halt and forest diversity and resilience would be negatively impacted,” she wrote. “There are also significant potential economic implications of creating more reserves from harvesting and bypassing areas where Black Ash is present.”
As well, listing the species as endangered contradicts the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry supported guide to preparing for the Emerald Ash Borer, she noted.
Ms. Rose said Black Ash is “common and abundant in road and rail ditches which are often subject o frequent brushing for safety and maintenance.”
If dead and dying trees are left uncut, trails would have to be closed, she added.
In terms of development, many rural lots have low areas which provide excellent habitat for Black Ash. Restrictions under the ESA for lot clearing and building would be detrimental to the demand for severances, building and expansion, she added in her letter to the province.
“Protecting Black Ash from being harmed, killed or harassed during forestry, roads or development will not protect the trees from Emerald Ash Borer,” she noted. “On the contrary, listing Black Ash as endangered will inevitably lead to its pre-emptive removal on private land to avoid future persecution, reduce the ability to manage forests for resilience against Emerald Ash Borer and other invasive species and will lead to increased human safety hazards because of hesitancy or inability to meet ESA requirements for removal of Emerald Ash Borer affected ash.”
Black Ash As Endangered Species
The county is asking the province to not list Black Ash as an endangered species since it is unclear how the designation would help the species recover. Instead, resources could be allocated for permitted inevitable Black Ash removal and parasitic wasp trials for biocontrol of Emerald Ash Borer.
In terms of the Emerald Ash Borer, it has been present in the county since 2013, she told the assembled mayors and reeves. It has been spreading through highway corridors and is now being seen in other spots including in the Opeongo and Deacon Tracts of the County Forest.
“There are not many Ash that can survive this insect,” she added.
This was only part of the dismal picture she presented on the county forest sector at county council. She pointed out while the Gypsy Moth was the “hottest topic” of the last two years, there are numerous issues. She said while in 2020 there was a major infestation it grew by 2021 to 1.7 million hectares in the province and 146,000 in Renfrew County.
“This is a visible insect,” she pointed out. “It is non-native. It first appeared in Ontario in 1969.”
The first major Gypsy Moth outbreak was in the 1990s, she said. Each of the caterpillars can eat a square metre of leaves, so that is why it is so visible.
“But there is some good news on this front,” she said.
Gypsy Moth does not kill all trees but prefers poplar, birch, oak, maple and beech. Most trees can survive two years of defoliation if they are healthy, she added.
Spraying is very costly at between $150 and $400 a hectare and would have to be repeated, she noted, adding it is only a short-term solution.
Options for landowners include scraping of the egg masses in fall and winter and burlap wrap or spray in the spring or summer, she said. There is hope the infestation will end soon.
“Natural controls have been observed,” she added.
Other issues with county forests include Beech Bark Disease.
“This to me as a forester is the most understated problem we have here,” she added.
When the trees die and come back as seedlings, they outcompete the regeneration of other species and this is the problem. There are lots of Beech trees in the area and they keep dying, she said.
As well, climate change is affecting the industry. Storms, Red Pine decline from drought and forest fires are an issue. Others include black legged ticks, Butternut Canker and Garlic Mustard. On the horizon are more issues including Dog Strangling Vine, the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Hemlock Wooly Adelgid.
“The cost of managing invasive species is high and expected to increase,” Ms. Rose added. “There is a significant cost in dealing with these forest health concerns.”
A Little Depressing
Warden Debbie Robinson said while the update “was a little depressing, it was something we absolutely have to be aware of.”
Bonnechere Valley Mayor Jennifer Murphy said the information on Black Ash being on the Endangered Species list was quite troubling.
“These species are not endangered in our region,” she said.
This is again an issue of the rural and urban divide with a misunderstanding on issues, she said.
Warden Robinson agreed, pointing out the county could pursue this at an upcoming delegation request for the ROMA (Rural Municipalities of Ontario) conference.
North Algona Wilberforce Mayor James Brose questioned if the Emerald Ash Borer is cyclical.
“Do cold winters slow it down?” he asked.
“For the Emerald Ash Borer, it would have to be really cold for it to have an impact,” Ms. Rose said.
Mayor Sheldon Keller of Brudenell, Lyndoch and Raglan said what is needed is a long period of cold weather to fight invasive species.
“Especially with the LDD (Lymantria dispar dispar – commonly known as the Gypsy Moth),” he said. “I know most people don’t want to hear that.”
Admaston/Bromley Mayor Michael Donohue said the county is very aware of the significant pressures on forestry and the danger of the invasive species as they come in. He said the Ash trees are not endangered because of over-harvesting.
“A species of tree is endangered not because of human pressures but because of invasive species,” he said.
The bad thing about invasive species is they don’t abide by the Endangered Species Act, he quipped.
“We have sustainably managed forests in Renfrew County but we are increasingly threatened by the transportation of invasive species,” he said.
Much like COVID, this is something which comes into the county and then area residents must deal with it.
“The damage to our forest has been brought in by and large from outside communities,” he said.
Debbi Christinck, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader