Fear Not the Beetle Apocalypse
In the July 30, 2017 edition of the Albuquerque Journal, there was an article entitled “We Know They Are Coming” written by Journal Staff Writer T. S. Last. Since that time, our office has received many calls with comments such as ‘take them out now’. The article referred to several boring beetles including an Elm Beetle, Bark Beetle, and the Emerald Ash Borer. It ended with a statement from the NM State Forester Tom Zegler “The Emerald Ash Borer is just a truckload of firewood away”.
Whereas it is true that some invasions are just a truckload of firewood away, the same can be said about diseases for us. As an Arborist, I try to humanize the things that are happening to trees. It is easier for me to understand it and hopefully helps me to better explain things so others can understand.
Boring beetles work their way through the vascular system of the tree constricting water flow and causing the tree to die back usually from the terminal points towards the center of the tree. When a borer is discovered, killing the bug is paramount. If discovered early enough, the tree can begin the process of repairing itself. Think of it as smoking. Smoking constricts your vascular system. Stopping smoking is paramount. If the smoking is stopped early enough, the body will begin the process of repairing itself.
In 1999, there was a bit of a panic as people were waiting to see what would happen as the clock struck 00:01 on 1/1/2000. The panic actually started several years before. Some people were afraid that the wheels of everything would fall off. We would no longer have electricity or fuels or access to clean water or food because we were a computerized world and computers did not know how to handle so many zeroes. Some people hoarded food and water and bought generators while other extremists sold what they had and moved to isolated places to try to live in a self-sustained environment. After the fact, we realized that some of the hype snowballed into real fear and people turned the fear into panic.
Will we get the Emerald Ash Borer or the “Green Monster” as suggested in the article, or for that matter, any other infestation or disease that will devastate our Urban Forests? It’s hard to say. It could happen. There are some things for which you just cannot plan. Dutch Elm disease wasn’t a thing on the East Coast until it was a thing. When it started to wipe out Elm trees, people everywhere began to panic. The same can be said about Small Pox in the 19th and 20th centuries. The world had to react and could not prepare. The strong survived.
Bark Beetles have devastated forests killing uncountable trees. But those are forests. That’s different because that occurs usually when there is a drought. Trees become weakened and are magnets for infestations. We call that natural attrition. In Urban Forests we have a little bit more control of how much water our trees are getting.
Of all the issues I have seen in the past few years, we are our landscape’s worst enemy. This year, I have seen about 100 trees that have gotten sick or died from roofing work, tile work, stucco work, painting, and cleaning solution. People throw their debris in the yard and the tree drinks it.
The worst by far is weed control. Last year approximately 800 trees were killed by weed killer. Read the labels. If the label indicates that it ‘clears the ground’ or ‘weeds don’t return for 365 days’, it is not good for your trees. There isn’t a safe place in your Urban Landscape to use these. Trees can drink 100 feet away from where they are planted.
All of that said, it is my professional opinion that we do not have to panic. You don’t have to remove your Ash, Elm, or Pinon Trees. In fact, you can still plant new ones. These are a few things you can do to help defend your landscape against total annihilation in the event of an infestation or disease that threatens our Urban Forests.
- Water your trees. Water to your trees is like diet and exercise to us. If we stay healthy, we can walk into a room of sick people and feel reasonably secure that we will not go home sick.
- Diversify. A long driveway lined with the same trees looks great but if one gets sick or infested, they all get sick or infested. The same is true for the neighborhood. It’s like taking your kid to day care. When one is sick, they all get sick. When planning in your yard, look to see what everyone else has and plant something different.
- Do not try to prevent everything. Bugs were here long before us and they will be here long after us. We cannot preventatively treat for all these major killers because they will be desensitized to the chemical and it won’t work. You can regularly treat with Dormant Oil (it isn’t really a chemical) and you can regularly treat varying your chemical, but you cannot kill everything. It’s like a flu shot. The chemical combination changes every year to best suit the strains that are expected.
- Keep chemicals out of your landscape. It’s a landscape not a landfill.
- Water your trees. I just can’t stress this enough.
Set your mind at ease. In New Mexico, the Aggies don’t just play basketball. They study bugs, weather patterns, moisture, heat indexes, and all the great restaurants where bugs like to eat to use nature to our benefit. The good bugs are promoted and the bad bugs are squashed. In other words, someone with a higher pay grade than me is monitoring patterns of disease and infestations to help us maintain our crops and landscapes. They are the CDC for greenery. As always, feel free to contact me with your questions or concerns…..Camille