Park Service finds extensive damage to ash trees on Roosevelt Island

WASHINGTON — The emerald ash borer is taking a toll on Roosevelt Island’s ash trees.

The island has been closed until further notice by National Park Service officials, following a recent survey of trees that turned up extensive damage along the island’s trail. Such diseased or dead ash trees are at an increased risk of falling, especially during storms.

(Officials closed the island in anticipation of Monday’s severe weather.)

Roosevelt Island is one of many area parks that have been hit hard by the invasive beetle. Many ash trees throughout the island’s 88 acres have been infected.

“The emerald ash borer is one of the most destructive insects to have ever invaded the United States,” said WTOP garden editor Mike McGrath. “Once a tree is infested, it cannot be cured.”

Its impact has even been felt by the national pastime: Damage to ash trees has resulted in more major leaguers using inferior maple, which breaks more frequently.

The beetle is native to northeastern Asia. It came to North America, he said, via wooden shipping pallets and wooden shipping containers.

“If the trees on Roosevelt Island are as contaminated as the news reports would lead us to believe,” he said, “the Park Service has a fiduciary duty to go in and cut those trees down and get them out of there and burn the wood.

“Otherwise, you’re just spreading typhoid.”

Some experts, in fact, believe that disaster for the tree is inevitable, and that the pest will wipe it out in a matter of decades.

The only way to protect healthy trees is through pesticide treatments every few years, McGrath said. One method involves injecting insecticide into the tree’s root system, but that method has raised concern about its effect on pollinating insects.

Another method involves injecting insecticide into the bark. Such treatments can run into the thousands, but the alternative is worse, McGrath said.

“If you have an ash tree and you do not treat it, it will eventually be felled by these creatures,” he said.

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