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Emerald ash borer to be noted in environmental speaker series

As sightings increase to the south and east, a buzz has begun about the inevitable arrival of the emerald ash borer in the Northtowns.

Tuesday night, the infamous pest will be highlighted in "Protecting Our Trees from the Emerald Ash Borer," the latest installment in the environmental speaker series held by the Town of Tonawanda Commission for the Conservation of the Environment.

Representatives of the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the town's Highway Department will talk about the insect's inroads in Erie County, as well as strategies to minimize its impact. The session begins at 7 p.m. in the community room of the Philip Sheridan Building, 3200 Elmwood Ave.

The small, metallic-green beetle, which likely made its way to North America from Asia in cargo packing material, has destroyed ash tree populations from the Midwest to points east.

The first confirmed infestation in Erie County was in June, in Buffalo's South Park. That same month, an infestation was discovered in Rochester.

There are roughly 2,200 ash trees, of different varieties, in the Ken-Ton community, according to town and village officials. Those numbers apply to trees growing on municipal property, between the sidewalks and streets.

To date, there have been no confirmed sightings of emerald ash borers or signs of the destruction they cause.

"It hasn't affected us yet. We're keeping our eyes open," said William Swanson, the town's highway superintendent.

"I don't know of any cases that have been confirmed," added Andy Mang, the village's public works superintendent.

Neither municipality uses ash trees any longer for their suburban canopies. Partly because the alarm was sounded several years ago about emerald ash borer and partly because ash trees aren't well-suited for the confined spaces.

With a recent confirmed sighting of the borer in Lancaster -- in the area near Transit and French roads, its arrival in Amherst is considered a fait accompli.

"Even though it hasn't been seen here in Amherst, we're going to consider it as here," said Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson.

This past spring, a task force in Amherst issued recommendations about how the town could deal with an infestation among its approximately 9,100 ash trees. It suggested a combination of tree removal, based on size and condition, and pesticide treatment. Both options come with a price. There are three ways to treat trees, but the use of pesticides comes with a whole other set of regulations and training requirements. Treatments by tree professionals initially were estimated at $200 per tree, but that price has been quickly dropping, Anderson said.

The issue is expected to go before the Amherst Town Board in coming weeks. Neither the Town of Tonawanda nor the Village of Kenmore has reached that state of preparedness.

No money has been budgeted for dealing with emerald ash borer-related expenses, said Swanson.

"We are telling people they can get them treated if they want to -- their private trees."

Mang, Kenmore's public works chief, said: "As of right now, we're still on hold. We haven't decided what we want to do."