Cutting Thousand of Ash Trees in the Forest is the Wrong Approach to Emerald Ash Borer
Photo: Ash Trees
Photocredit: debs-eye on Flickr
In Haystack Mountain State Park in Norfolk, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection plan to cut thousands of healthy white ash trees with the stated goals of safety and generating revenue. It’s very unclear what the net revenue will be, and when the state engages in tree harvesting, it should be for forestry management rather than for profit. After all, these are the public's trees, and trees and forests have never been more important. Since harvesting so many trees will have a large cost associated with it, the state decided to run this as a logging operation, which means the state will sell lumber for profit. Is it worth it?
These ash trees are considered threatened by the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). State parks are only supposed to be subject to harvesting when salvage trees need to be removed due to widespread mortality caused by exotic pests, hurricanes, tornadoes, or fires. However, Haystack Mountain State Park is one of the last areas in Connecticut where ash trees that are not infested can be found.
When DEEP found that removing over 20,000 ash trees in Haystack Mountain State Park would be costly, they converted the project to a revenue generating one, which means they will take out and sell 125,000 board feet of timber which includes 80,000 of ash wood. The heavily visited southern area and rarely visited northern area will be logged; some snag trees will be left in the northern forest.
Of course, hazardous trees in high use areas such as trails, roads and picnic areas should be removed, but cutting large areas of ash trees in Haystack Mountain State Park in an attempt to stop the emerald ash borer is an outdated management strategy that will adversely affect the future of ash trees in the region and could do more harm than good. Recent research from the Midwest – ground zero, where EAB started - informs us that white ash survival in any given stand is up to 100 percent, and at least 75% of trees showing prior evidence of EAB infection had healthy canopies. If a tree retains 30% of its canopy, it is likely to survive, and these “lingering ash” are the resilient trees we need for the future and for ongoing research (for more information see Robinett and McCullough’s (2019) “White ash (Fraxinus americana) survival in the core of the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) invasion,” from the Canadian Journal of Forest Research).
The CT Department of Energy should consider this critical new research and first do no harm with our public natural resources. According to Susan Masino, Trinity College Professor and a recent Charles Bullard Fellow at Harvard Forest, "Forests have been dealing with bugs for millions of years ... and cutting down ash trees will not stop the emerald ash borer. It does of course salvage the wood, and private landowners may need that specific resource or that income. But salvage logging releases stored carbon, increases erosion and soil compaction, and removes trees that might be resilient. We might still have healthy American Chestnut now if we weren't so aggressive about cutting it. We should not make the same mistake with the ash trees in the region."
From an ecological perspective, there are benefits to bugs! Areas of dead trees become successional habitat and dead trees themselves provide habitat and continue to store carbon for decades. Professor Masino's work and others shows that intact natural forests have quantifiably greater long-term benefits in terms of biodiversity and carbon storage than managed forests (see Moomaw et al. (2019) “Intact Forests in the United States: Proforestation Mitigates Climate Change and Serves the Greatest Good” from Frontiers in Forests and Global Change).
A large international consortium of scientists concluded that “salvage logging is not consistent with the management objectives of protected areas” (see Thorn et al. (2018) “Impacts of salvage logging on biodiversity: A meta-analysis” from the Journal of Applied Ecology)
Who or what benefits from cutting thousands of trees in a state park? Our existing trees provide quantifiable ecosystem services and carbon storage. No one is suggesting that we stop responsible forestry where appropriate and according to the goals for that land. But it has never been more important to respect the proven success of nature and the wisdom of evolution, and we need nature more than ever. Cutting thousands of healthy trees to “protect forests” will in the long run risk greater harm.
Martha Klein is a Sierra Club member and volunteer on the Communications Committee.