Driving through Tate Township in Clermont County, residents may notice the abundance of contractors back at work cutting down and removing trees infested by the Asian longhorned beetle.
Young’s General Contracting employees returned Jan. 4 after the holiday season and are working to complete phase one of the tree removal process, which includes the removal of trees in wooded lots.
“They are still removing infested trees,” Rhonda Santos, public information officer for the United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said. “They had primarily removed landscaped trees, now they will be going back into properties to remove trees in wooded lots.”
Santos said that to date, 5,081 infested trees have been identified in Tate Township and 27 infested trees have been identified in Monroe Township. As of Dec. 21, 1,146 of those trees had been removed.
While infested trees are being removed by contractors, APHIS officials are working to complete the second environmental assessment, which will help determine the next steps in the eradication process.
Originally, the second environmental assessment was predicted to be released before the end of 2011 and was set to propose the removal of high risk host trees in addition to infested trees. Santos said APHIS officials have delayed the assessment to collect more information.
“When they issued the first environmental assessment we were only aware of 800 infested trees,” Santos said. “They really wanted to go back and take their time and examine the infestation.”
Santos said since tree removals began in November, and since APHIS started the second environmental assessment, the number of infested trees has increased.
She said because of this, and because of the destructive nature of the Asian longhorned beetle, officials are conducting new tree counts and further researching the impact removals will have on the area.
“All of the information will help us realize what can be done,” Santos said. “There are going to be a few different proposed courses of action in the environmental assessment.”
Until the second assessment is complete, contractors and APHIS officials will continue to work with residents as infested trees are removed in the area.
Marvin Enoe, a tree climbing supervisor for APHIS, explained that the tree removal process is pretty continuous now that contractors are moving into the wooded lots in Tate Township.
“This is a heavily infested area,” Enoe said about the area just outside Harmony Hill Vineyards, where the infestation was discovered in June of 2011. “It seems like it’s where it really took hold originally.”
He said officials have estimated that the area in Tate Township could have been infested by the Asian longhorned beetle for up to seven years prior to its discovery.
In order to aid the tree removal contractors in their efforts, and keep an accurate count of trees, Enoe explained that APHIS officials have used a red slash to mark trees that are ready to be cut down. He said they were also using a blue dot to mark high-risk host trees, which were in close proximity to infested trees.
He said they have stopped marking high risk host trees because of the delay in the second environmental assessment, however, he said many of these high risk host trees are only inches away from the infested trees. Many trees also have both a blue dot and a red slash on their bark, which indicates that they were infested after the original survey or possibly missed by surveyors.
“We have so much preferred host material out here,” Enoe said about the Tate Township area.
Enoe said the area is different than other towns he has worked in because there are many hardwood trees close together, making it difficult for surveyors to find every infested tree.
And while the adult beetles have died off, Enoe said the larvae is thriving in the bark of infested trees. Because of this, he said contractors are being cautious about how they remove and dispose of infested trees.
“They can survive in wood that is the size of your thumb,” he said about the larvae.
Contractors are careful to collect all the wood materials after a tree has been cut down, and once the infested trees are removed and loaded into dump trucks, they are taken to a site off State Route 232 where they are cut into chips that are smaller than one inch in two dimensions.
“We definitely make sure it is not something that would potentially re-infest,” Enoe said.
He said the USDA has made the wood chips available to Tate Township residents. In addition, contractors make sure to fill holes and replace landscaping that was damaged during the tree removal process.
The tree removal process will continue in both Tate and Monroe townships until all of the infested trees have been removed.
Once the second environmental assessment is released, residents will have 30 days to comment on the assessment, which will include future eradication suggestions and plans.
“Because they are taking their time gathering the information, it is not expected we will see (the second assessment) until early spring,” Santos said.