MORRISBURG – A foreign bug that has been slowly crossing North America is now spreading exponentially in the region, and it will cause lasting damage to parks in South Dundas.
The spread of the Emerald Ash Borer has reached critical mass after exponential growth in the past few years. The EAB is an invasive beetle species from Asia that has few known predators and a large quantity of trees to attack.
Years of mitigation tactics including quarantine zones, pesticides, and selective cutting to prevent the spread of the beetle have largely failed.
Over the next seven years, South Dundas’ parks will see significant tree loss. To deal with that, municipal arborist Jacob Blais is leading the charge at the municipality to remove dead and dying Ash trees, and replace that tree cover with other species.
“I hate to see any tree get cut down,” Blais said. “But these things (beetles) are everywhere and we have to deal with the damage.”
Over 40 trees will be removed from South Dundas parks this summer, the largest amount being from the Morrisburg waterfront. Parks and recreation staff identified over 170 trees that will need to be removed from South Dundas parks in the next five years. All this is mitigation of the damage done by the EAB.
Blais explained that once the EAB gets into the bark of an Ash tree, that is it for the tree. A sure sign that the EAB has infected a tree is a d-shaped hole in the bark.
Austin Marcellus, manager of parks and recreation for South Dundas said that the municipality will remove 43 trees this year from the Morrisburg and Iroquois waterfronts, and two in Matilda.
“There is a lot of damage and the municipality is going to be dealing with this for years,” Marcellus said.
Removing the trees in the park will require sections being cordoned off for safety. Trees will be felled, cut up into sections, and then ground down for wood chips.
As the trees are already dead, there are no issues with recycling the Ash chips for landscaping uses at the municipality. The chips will be used by the parks and recreation department in flower beds, mulch, and pathways this year.
Safety is the biggest factor for the work being done. Once the EAB has killed a tree, branches and limbs dry out and can easily break off. Left too long, entire trees can fall due to rot and damage at the base of the trunk.
“This is a popular area,” Blais said of the western part of the Morrisburg waterfront by the Docksyde. “In order to make this work, we have to go through here and take care of all the dead stuff.”
He said that will prepare the parks for planting new trees to replace the tree cover. While trees will be replanted, it will not be at the same time as the old trees are cut down.
“There are two phases, the removal, and the planting,” Blais said. “We can’t do both right at the same time.”
He explained that the planting will happen after so that there is proper time to maintain the new trees as they take root.
Removing dead or dying Ash trees will also help the overall health of the remaining trees in the parks where trees are growing close together. Thinning the canopy area will allow some additional sunlight in and more room for the remaining trees to grow.
It will be a different story at the Morrisburg beach area, where there will be only a solitary Maple tree left. The remaining trees are all Ash and in various stages of dying.
South Dundas staff, consulting with South Nation Conservation, have chosen several species of new trees for the areas losing Ash trees. Trees selected for the waterfront areas were chosen for being wind resistent given the windy conditions along the St. Lawrence River.
“We want to make sure the new trees are going to not only survive but thrive in the locations,” Blais said.
Infestations of the Emerald Ash Borer were first detected in 2013. In the past two years there has been an extensive die off of infected trees which fits a cycle of slow damage leading to a critical mass of destruction from the pest.
It is expected that significant damage will continue into 2023, and that the EAB will still impact the region for five years after.
About 30 per cent of all forest cover in South Dundas is Ash trees meaning the natural landscape of the municipality is undergoing a significant change.
In 2021, there will be 24 trees removed from Morrisburg, 17 from Iroquois, and two from Matilda. Even more will be removed in 2022. Morrisburg will see the largest amount of tree loss over the next seven years, losing 81 trees. Iroquois will lose 55, and Matilda 36 trees. Those trees are just the municipal Ash tree roster and does not count the thousands of Ash trees located on private property.
Assisting Blais with the tree removal and planting this summer is arbourist-student Tyler Barkley. Barkley, who is from Williamsburg, has worked seasonally for South Dundas in the Morrisburg Arena. He was recently hired as a student arbourist, a field he is pursuing as a career.
“I am just trying to learn as much as I can while I am here at the township,” Barkley said.
Marcellus said this is the first year that South Dundas has specifically hired a student arbourist.
“Having a certified arbourist on staff and looking at the Emerald Ash Borer problem that we have, this was an opportunity to offer a job in the community to a student who is trying to get in that field,” he said.
Work on removing the Ash trees will begin the week of May 17-21.
Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Morrisburg Leader