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Students tag ash trees in Waddington (VIDEO)

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WADDINGTON — More than 20 Madrid-Waddington Central High School students teamed up with about 40 forestry students Monday to tag ash trees in the village for the St. Lawrence County Environmental Management Council’s 14th annual Earth Day event.

John F. Tenbusch of the county Planning Office, who coordinated the event, said that with the invasive emerald ash borer as close as Cornwall, Ontario, all of the ash trees in St. Lawrence County could be destroyed within a few years.

The green, inch-long beetle has killed more than 100 million ash trees across the United States and parts of Canada since 2002.

“There’s nothing we can do to stop it, but what we can do is identify the ash trees so we know what our resource is and what our risk is,” Mr. Tenbusch said. “People are going to need time to plan for it and to assess their situation and risk and deal with it. We’re not trying to spread fear, although the emerald ash borer is going to be nasty when it gets here. But the message we want to spread is that there are things we can do to plan for it.”

The students gathered at the Donald M. Martin Civic Center, where Mr. Tenbusch divided the community among 24 teams, each looking for ash trees. Once trained students of the SUNY-ESF Ranger School, Wanakena, spotted an ash tree, the group tied a pink ribbon around it with a yellow tag informing people how to save the trees.

Mr. Tenbusch said participants had permission from the village to tag trees on public property, and they knocked on the doors of private property owners to get permission to tag their ash trees. Mr. Tenbusch said ash trees make up about 10 percent of trees across the state and 25 percent of the trees in the north country.

“We probably have between six and eight years before all of our trees get infected and die,” he said.

Paul J. Hetzler, Cornell Cooperative Extension horticulture and natural resources educator, said the biggest concerns he has are health and safety.

He said that although the infestation cycle can take up to five years in one area, once a tree is infected, it can be hazardous within 12 months.

“The trees will deteriorate rapidly after infection,” he said. “They can collapse unexpectedly, and that becomes a liability for municipalities and institutions.”

Mr. Hetzler, an arborist familiar with ash trees, said private property owners could try using insecticidal treatments to protect the trees, but “every ash tree in this area will be dead eventually.”

“Damage isn’t evident to the untrained eye,” he said.

Michelle L. Bresett, a Madrid-Waddington earth science and physics teacher who joined her students on the field trip, said it’s vital for students to learn the importance of environmental volunteer work.

“We’re very connected to the earth, and it’s very important to have a good understanding of what is out there for us and what our resources are,” she said. “If we have a large amount of ash trees in the area that are going to be impacted by this emerald ash borer, then students should be aware that it’s going to not just affect the trees themselves but the whole ecosystem that’s built around that tree as well.”

One of her senior students, Alex V. Hammond, said he was pleased to see so many students show up to help tag the trees. “We want the public and private sectors to know that we care about the ash trees,” he said.

Mr. Tenbusch said students will have to deal with this issue as well as other environmental matters in the future, so they should learn about them now.

“If you get kids to start paying attention to environmental stuff, they will pay attention to environmental stuff for the next 50 years,” he said.

Video of the Earth Day event can be seen at http://wdt.me/Ash-Trees.

Students tag ash trees in Waddington
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