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Team to Monitor Where and When Ash Trees Die on a National Forest

Partnership on the Allegheny National Forest aims to help forest managers nationwide mitigate effects of emerald ash borer

Dead ash trees.  Photo by Kathleen Knight, USDA Forest Service Delaware, OH, May 16, 2018 - 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 from the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station 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 (EAB).

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.

A new grant of nearly $16,000 from the USDA Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry branch is allowing for an expanded ash monitoring effort as well as an expanded team. This month, Washington & 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 the 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 Research Ecologist Kathleen Knight of the Northern Research Station. “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. “Partnering with USDA Forest Service researchers 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 of the Allegheny National Forest.

“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 (including baseball bats) and as shade trees, and they are also important ecologically as forest trees. More than 40 native arthropods (insects and spiders) completely depend on ash for food and habitat. Another 30 species of native arthropods depend in part on ash, while many species of wildlife consume their seeds. 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 (IUCN).

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.  Washington & Jefferson College undergraduate students will gain research experience as they assess the health of ash trees in long-term monitoring plots on Allegheny National Forest.

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The mission of the Northern Research Station is to improve people's lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

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The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

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USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).


Last modified: May 16, 2018