West Orange struggles to save ash trees

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Thousands of local ash trees are under threat of ash yellows disease and emerald ash borers, prompting West Orange and the West Orange Environmental Commission to investigate ways to save as many of the town’s trees as possible.

According to town forester John Linson, the outbreak of diseased trees is currently ravaging ash trees at the Eagle Rock Reservation and at the Woodlands, as well as in neighboring Montclair. The disease could potentially spread through all of the ash trees in West Orange, permanently damaging them.

“Ash yellows plugs up the tissue in the trees,” Linson told the West Orange Chronicle in a phone interview on Oct. 12. “Then the parts that carry water and food don’t work, and the tree dies. It starts to decline in about two to three years.”

The emerald ash borer, a beetle native to China that was introduced to the Great Lakes region on shipping crates in the early 2000s, has spread throughout the area to reach New Jersey. The beetle damages the bark of the ash trees, severing the flow of nutrients.

Unfortunately not much can be done to save the trees once they are diseased, according to Linson. Green ash trees are more resistant, he said, but the white ash trees that are native to the area are more susceptible to infection.

“Unless you have a healthy tree already, you’re going to lose,” Linson said. “But there’s no guarantee that the tree will never get it.”

He said that ash trees can be inoculated with Merit, an injectable insecticide, which can prevent them from getting the disease or being infected with the emerald ash borers. Injecting the trees with Merit would cost approximately $200 per tree; additionally, the process would have to be repeated about two years later to make sure the tree remains unaffected. Dead trees that the township planted will be removed by the town.

“It’s an unfortunate service, but we have to oversee safety,” Linson said, adding that ash trees deteriorate relatively quickly because of their softer bark, so the risk of them falling on their own is high. “At this point it’s just a matter of time; no one is planting ash trees in New Jersey anymore. When a disease is brought over from somewhere else and it runs rampant, there’s no controlling it. The horse is already out of the barn.”

Linson said that trees removed on the streets in West Orange will be replaced, but the department has no plans for the trees in the woods that have to come down. As far as trying to inoculate the trees every few years to prevent the disease, he said budget issues arise.

“It’s more than a municipal budget can handle,” he said. “And for homeowners, you want to think about if you want to spend that kind of money. If they’re dead they have to be removed.”

Linson also said that residents should be aware of what kind of trees they have on their property.

“When someone buys a house they don’t look in the yard for tree issues and give a lot of consideration to that,” he said. “No one likes to spend a lot of money to have to remove a tree.”

The WOEC met Sept. 27 to discuss potential actions that West Orange residents can undertake to save existing healthy ash trees. The commission also discussed how to make residents aware of the dying ashes.

“The town can’t treat the trees because it’s too expensive,” WOEC Chairman Mike Brick told the Chronicle in a phone interview on Oct. 12. “But residents can save a tree or two for $200 per tree. It depends on when you catch it, because how many people will do that? They’re soft and deteriorate pretty quickly and it’s not really safe to leave them.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic