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Team to monitor where, when ash trees die on national forest

OHIO—There are 308 million ash trees in the forests of Pennsylvania, and one gleaming invasive insect poses a threat to all of them. On the Allegheny National Forest in northwest Pennsylvania, researchers and foresters are working together to monitor the health of ash trees with the goal of one day reducing the effects of emerald ash borer.

A new grant of nearly $16,000 from State and Private Forestry branch is allowing for an expanded ash monitoring effort as well as an expanded team. This month, Washington and Jefferson College joined the monitoring effort and will help establish how the spread of EAB is affecting the health of ash trees on the Allegheny National Forest.

Data collected on the national forest will help scientists better understand the effects of EAB across different landscapes. Field data will be used to inform satellite detection surveys of EAB, performed by the USDA Forest Service’s Forest Health Assessment and Applied Sciences Team, as well as to update EAB models in the National Insect and Disease Risk Map. These data will also be compared to tree health data collected in ash treatment areas where insecticides are being used to protect more than 500 individual ash trees from EAB on Allegheny National Forest. These treated ash trees occur in clusters of 20 trees across most of the national forest and are being protected for longer term genetic and seed conservation purposes.

“This unique collaboration among research, the Allegheny National Forest, and Washington and Jefferson College has the potential to help land managers in every state with emerald ash borer,” said NRS research ecologist Kathleen Knight. “Ultimately, the knowledge we gain from this project will help forest managers and policy makers plan for, reduce and mitigate the ecosystem impacts of EAB.”

Research on the Allegheny National Forest is part of a larger collaborative project to better understand and respond to EAB impacts on forest landscapes. The collaboration “provides important information and state-of-the-art science that helps forest managers best respond to an array of emerging threats to our national forests, such as the emerald ash borer,” said forest silviculturist Andrea Hille, Allegheny National Forest.

Photo: Dead ash trees. “We are excited to partner with research scientists at the USDA Forest Service to better understand the spread and impact of EAB on the forests in eastern North America,” said Washington and Jefferson College associate professor Jason Kilgore. “This will also give our students the opportunity to engage in meaningful research and collaborative work.”

Ash trees are valued for their high quality hardwood products and as shade trees, and they are also important ecologically as forest trees. More than 40 native arthropods completely depend on ash for food and habitat. In the wake of the EAB invasion, which affects all species of ash native to North America, several ash species have been rated as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

In addition to Knight, Hille and Kilgore, the research team includes Charles Flower and Alejandro Royo of the Northern Research Station and William Oldland of State and Private Forestry.

The EAB is a destructive beetle from Asia that has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees across much of the eastern United States and Canada and is now invading the Allegheny National Forest. Past and ongoing studies at the Allegheny National Forest have included understanding landscape patterns of ash health, optimizing genetic conservation strategies, and installation and initial data collection for an insecticide treatment experiment.

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