Thursday, September 1, 2016

The State of the Ashes

Gossips has on a few occasions bemoaned the fate of Hudson's ash trees--all located on North Front Street. This morning, Jonathan Lerner, chair of the Conservation Advisory Council, sent Gossips the following report on the assessment of the ash trees and gave permission to share it with readers.

Summary Assessment of Front Street Ash Trees
The 18 ash trees on Front Street have been review by several professional arborists, and representatives of the Department of Environmental Conservation, all of whom have determined that the trees are infested with Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). Because the trees were previously stressed for a number of reasons, the trees were easy targets for the EAB infestation. EAB can be treated by inoculating the trunks with a systemic insecticide, but to be effective, this treatment must reoccur every two to three years.
Several of the infected Ash trees have large dead branches, which if they fall are a safety hazard to pedestrians and motorists. A severe storm, especially a winter ice storm will likely bring those branches down.
Even if the trees are treated for EAB, the likelihood of them living beyond another 5 years, in their current stressed condition, is minimal. The reason for this is the conditions of the base of the trees, which include girdled roots; poor root pruning due to adjacent sidewalk work; undersized tree wells; and granite cobbles, placed evidently when the trees were young and now embedded in their roots. The last two issues are particularly bad, since the trunks and roots are growing into them causing poor moisture and nutrient uptake by the trees. Additionally, the trees have declined from improper pruning in the past.
A holistic approach to saving the trees would be costly, since it includes treating for the EAB infestation, pruning and shaping the tree canopies, enlarging tree well sizes in the sidewalk, removing the granite cobbles, and deep watering and fertilizing. Even with this holistic approach it is unlikely that the trees will live more than 10 more years. When asked for another solution, the last arborist to review the Ash trees provided the following recommendation:
1. “Safety prune” the trees to rid them of dead and dying branches, and lightly prune any branches that appear too heavy and may fall in a storm. Since any branches may be infested, when removed, they must be destroyed by chipping or burning so as not to spread the infestation. They must not be transported for use as firewood.
2. Deep root fertilization to give the trees a boost of healthy growth in the spring. (optional)
3. Plant one or two new trees, depending on available space, of another species between each of the existing ash trees. By planting new trees now, as the ash trees die, the new trees will become established. Waiting to plant new trees until after the Ash trees die and are taken down, will leave the street stark and barren. New trees should be planted in a condition that will ensure healthy growth and longevity, in properly prepared soil and in sidewalk cuts large enough to accommodate their growth to maturity. The CAC can provide a list of appropriate tree species for Front Street and description of proper tree planting practices.
Lerner stressed that the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) intends to devise a planting plan for Front Street that would insert new trees to be there when the existing ones die, but warned: "Given the multiple challenges of making that happen--which include getting the DPW to agree to proper cuts in the sidewalk; finding funding; getting buy-in from the adjacent property owners; the irrationality of the current city tree code that makes [property owners] responsible for the maintenance of trees planted in the public right of way--even this relatively modest project is going to be complicated and might take a year or two to accomplish."

Developing a tree strategy is expected to be discussed at the CAC's September meeting, which is scheduled for Tuesday, September 6, at 6 p.m., in City Hall.


  1. Mr. Lerner is to be commended for his efforts on behalf of the City's ash trees, but this and other tree issues predate the founding of the Conservation Advisory Council.

    The big question (which has no less application today) is why we were so ineffective for so many years, even to the point that the DEC's urban forestry program was left scratching its head. The State was trying - but failing - to award us money for trees.

    So we're just stupid, right?

  2. Jonathan Lerner and the CAC are doing an incredible job on behalf of our City and our trees– many thanks.

    A few years ago I spent a good deal of time working with Bill Rohr (the City's grant writer) on what I believed to be our DEC urban forestry grant application– selected species, secured commitments from DPW, compiled locations, even a list of volunteers committed to tree planting– yes, people do care about trees in Hudson (notwithstanding Eric Galloway).

    Bill never submitted the application on behalf of the City of Hudson. Curiously, the City of Troy, where Bill was planner at the time, was awarded 25k that year for tree planting.

    1. Thank you Dave. I rest my case (heh).

      Before the CAC came into existence, I'd speak with the DEC's tree people and they'd say about Hudson, "We just don't get it." (It bears repeating, these were people who were trying to give us money.)

      Thanks, too, for being the most important mover and shaker behind the establishment of a Conservation Advisory Council. For those who don't know, it was not an easy achievement, nor is it a smooth process now.

  3. I'm not sure though why 18 is some magic number, just because they're on Front Street.

    Probably every ash in the city is the responsibility of a private owner, so why don't we include other privately-owned ash trees that are in public spaces?

    It's a puzzle to me why we don't also speak about the 10 ash trees in the Amtrak parking lot. Those are the only species down there, so without planning it will be a big empty parking lot someday.

  4. Wow. Sixty years tree destruction; Dutch Elm Disease and now Emerald Ash Borer. Sounds royal for a killer.
    Maybe a Columbia County employed Arborist might be of value.

    1. Right, is there a single elm left? It seems the last of them died this year. One of Hudson's great trees too. Just look at those old photos of Washington (court house) Square, with its many stately elms. All gone.

      New York State really does want to help us, but we just can't get our acts together. This place needs new blood!