Concord prepares to cut down a lot of trees before invasive insects can kill them

  • The last rays of sun hit a grove of pine trees behind the playground in Rollins Park in Concord on Friday. City officials say acres of red pine and ash trees may have to be cut down in the park due to dangerous and invasive insects. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff

  • The sun sets at Rollins Park in Concord on Friday, April, 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The last rays of sun hit a grove of red and white pine trees in Rollins Park in Concord on Friday, April, 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The last rays of sun hit a grove of red pine trees in Rollins Park in Concord on Friday, April, 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • Map of invasive outbreaks in Concord

  • Aerial photo shows location of red pine grove in Rollins Park in Concord that is infected with red pine scale and will probably have to be cut down. The white pine grove is not infected.

Monitor Staff
Published: 4/15/2016 10:59:54 PM

Acres of red pines and scores of tall ash trees throughout Concord are bound for the chopping block in the coming years, doomed by voracious insects, and the city wants people to get ready to see some big, and not necessarily welcome, changes.

“We’re at the point where we can’t address this behind the scenes any more,” said Beth Fenstermacher, a senior planner for Concord.

The problem is twofold: An invasive insect known as the red pine scale, and another called the emerald ash borer both carry fungus deep into the tree. The emerald ash borer has gained much attention because experts believe it could threaten most or all of North America’s ash trees some day.

Both insects are recent arrivals – red pine scale was first spotted in New Hampshire in Bear Brook State Park in 2012 and the emerald ash borer was found in Concord in 2013. But they’re part of a bigger problem, as invasive bugs thriving in our warming climate pose dangers to Northeastern forests.

Last year, Concord cut down acres of red pine trees in a city forest on West Locke Road that were infected by red pine scale. The city wanted to get maximum value for the lumber before the disease started killing trees and staining the wood, lowering the commercial value. The forest was obtained in a land swap with Unitil and is not in public view, so the cut went largely unnoticed.

That won’t be the case with the next target, however. Two acres of red pine trees in Rollins Park are also affected by the tiny insects. City officials said they will probably have to be cut down in the next couple of years before they lose value or become so sick that their falling limbs become a danger.

Some dieback can already be seen in the form of yellow and brown needles, and meetings will be held with neighbors over the summer to discuss the future of the pines and figure out the best way to proceed.

Although a large stand of white pine trees adjacent to the red pines will remain at the park, cutting two acres of trees will be very noticeable, Ward 7 City Councilor Keith Nyhan said.

“As a kid, I used to play in that park. . . . Those trees have been there forever,” he said. “Change is always tough. For people accustomed to looking across the road at trees, there’s bound to be some kind of shock..”

Nyhan said he hopes that the loss of the trees would end up being good for Rollins Park, one of the busiest in the city.

“It is one of the most underutilized parts of the park,” he said. “Maybe it becomes a picnic area, maybe it becomes a sculpture garden. Once there is grass, new saplings – who’s to say it doesn’t look better?”

The trees at Rollins Park probably won’t be cut until next year unless the disease suddenly spreads.

“The arborist and forester are monitoring these trees. If they start to lose too much timber value we might have to take action, since the timber sales will help offset some of the cost,” Fenstermacher said.

The value of lumber isn’t huge: The pines cut on West Locke Road brought in $3,000 in lumber sales, Fenstermacher said, and it’s doubtful that the trees at Rollins Park would bring in any more than that.

Money from timber sales is generally put in the conservation commission’s forestry fund to help pay for maintenance in conservation land and trails, although the money that would come out of the trees in Rollins Park may go into the city’s park fund, Fenstermacher said.

Ironically, red pine trees exist thickly in parts of Concord because of another tree-destroying disease: White pine blister rust. That disease and an accompanying attack of the bug known as pine weevils badly damaged the Northeast’s white pine population in the first half of the 20th century, and acres of red pines were often planted to replace them.

A more high-profile problem for Concord is the emerald ash borer. That bright green beetle is native to east Asia and was first found in the United States in 2002. Lacking natural predators or other controls, the beetle, which is a strong flyer, has spread to 20 states and killed millions of trees. It is generally thought that North America’s ash trees will be largely or entirely wiped out by the infestation.

Concord is ground zero for the beetle’s invasion in New Hampshire, as it has been found in 13 locations in the city so far. Concord is applying pesticide to some highly visible mature ash trees, such as some in Thompson Park near City Hall, but that’s not considered a long-term solution.

“That’s only prolonging their death,” Fenstermacher said.

One small glimmer of hope involves a parasitic wasp that was released in a few locations in Concord and Canterbury in hopes that it would attack the emerald ash borer. The New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands said Tuesday that there were signs that this form of biological control might work, although it’s too early to say for sure.

“We have evidence that the adult wasps we received from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service found EAB larvae in New Hampshire and attacked it,” Kyle Lombard, forest health specialist with the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, said in a press release.

The wasp attacks the beetle in its larval form, killing it before it can mature. Lombard said a major question is whether the population of wasps will grow on its own, without new adults being added to the area.

A workshop on the issue is being planned for May.

“Now is the time to start thinking about it so those landowners can have some say in the matter instead of waiting until the infestation has reached a crisis point and we’ve got to clear-cut everything,” Nyham said.

Nyhan said people interested in being part of the city’s discussion can email him at knyhan@concordnh.gov to learn more.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek)


David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog granitegeek.org, as well as moderator of the monthly Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.



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