Lancaster continues to have an unwanted distinction.
The town remains one of the local hot spots for the emerald ash borer that is infesting and killing thousands of ash trees in the region and millions of them in 25 states, extending as far west as Colorado.
Lancaster was one of the first two areas where the borer emerged in Erie County in 2001, near the airport, while the second was in South Park on the grounds of the Buffalo & Erie County Botanical Gardens. And about 1 in 5 trees in Erie County is an ash.
“It’s terrible. We’re almost right at the top of the curve now,” Mark D. Lubera, the town’s crew chief overseeing parks, recreation and forestry, said late last week after receiving an informal update from the regional office of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Lubera, who’s also a forester, is not shocked by the news. The problem can be overwhelming, he said, although the town is managing to “hold its own.”
“We are doing the best we can,” Lubera said, “but it’s a serious problem. Lancaster is in tough shape with the ash borer problem – that is a fact.”
Since 2010, the town has been injecting pesticides into its struggling ash trees. “We want to inject the tree while it’s still alive,” Lubera said.
By late October, town workers hope to have injected between 500 and 600 ash trees on the streets, even though it’s known that some, despite treatment, do not survive. And so goes the maddening scramble to help protect those trees.
Lancaster has about 1,200 ash trees on town rights of way and stopped planting them in the late 1990s when the ash borer was accidentally introduced into this country, tucked in wooden shipping pallets with car parts headed to Michigan from China.
But Lancaster has ash trees that border backyards and are in developments. Beyond those 1,200 ash trees, “we haven’t injected any of those because the material is so expensive,” Lubera said. “On town property, we have a lot of dead trees hanging over people’s yards, and many of them are ash trees.”
Already, the town has cut down about half a dozen ash trees hanging over swimming pools, Lubera said.
How many total ash trees remain in Lancaster is not known, but they are prevalent throughout the community, which has had a long-standing history of recognition for its tree population, much like East Aurora.
Lubera noted that one case of six 1-liter bottles of pesticide injection costs about $4,000 and that would address about 150 trees. The town’s practice has been to treat its street ash trees every two years for the ones that can be saved. Otherwise, the town has to cut them down, he said. “It’s hard to do because like every place else, I just don’t have the manpower to do it,” Lubera said. “We’re working on pretty tight budgets and do what we can do. The Town Board recognizes the problem.”
“We made sure we re-treed,” Supervisor Johanna M. Coleman said of the town’s effort to deal with the ash borer devastation. “Mark is very aware of the problems, and he goes out if he gets a call and looks at the tree to see if it happens to be on town-owned property. I’m sure (the problem) has left pockets in the community.”
Over the decades, the town has made it a priority to replenish trees that have been lost due to disease, the October Surprise snowstorm of 2006 and other reasons, she said.
As the town replaces its street trees, it has done so with pear trees, flowering lilacs and red maples as part of 12 different tree species it has substituted in place of ash trees.
“It was a problem we knew was coming. I think we’re just slowing it down, but not mitigating it,” said Councilman Ronald Ruffino Sr., liaison to the Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department. “We’re trying to get a little more life on the trees. They are going to die, unfortunately. We’ve always been a very tree-friendly community, and now when something like this comes through, maybe we take more of a hit because of our volume of trees.”