Emerald Ash Borer, Don’t Treat Them, Remove Them!

Updated Feb 22 2014

Well, its here. They have found it by the airport. It was inevitable and now we have to figure out the best way to manage it. As you may know, I talk with other professional Arborist from all over the world, daily. I am fortunate to have some of the top Arborist in the world as my mentors and I have several friends who run very large private professional company”s that are Board Certified Master Arborist and members of the Tree Care Industry Association and are accredited company”s. Many of them are in areas that are heavily infested with EAB in the northeast.  Listening to them, their experiences with treatments, removals and the aftermath. I have came to my own conclusion on how I plan on dealing with it when called. First, everyone who knows me, knows I am not a fan of chemicals. Too many times, we see a miracle cure and run to use it, then a few years later, we see commercials on TV where lawyers are getting class action suits together because of issues associated with the miracle cure.

You always see these young guys out running around with a tank in their truck, knocking on doors and spraying your yard with this or that. All while listening to their I-Pod or texting their girlfriend. In other words, not paying attention to what they are doing. Dumping who knows what in your yard, into the environment. “Oops, little spill, hope no one seen that”. Many times, I have had to come in after a “pro” has treated a tree, only to remove it. They where supposed to fertilize it, treat it for whatever they told you was wrong, even if they didn”t know for sure, but read the ticket wrong, didn”t clean the equipment properly or just applied the wrong amount and killed the tree. Most of the time, the one who is in the field has had little training and is not the one with a QAL. Just a guy they hired to fill a spot, a couple days of on the job training and they are sent out the door with a full schedule. He has no idea of what he is doing and they make him responsible for making sure highly toxic chemicals are carefully handled and stored. This happens all the time around here, all the time. The chemicals they have for EAB, have proven that that they have some success and can work to a point, but experiences in the field (from highly successful, professional, private companies with Master Arborist, with no affiliation of the manufacturer) have determined that this is not always the case. The highest success rate so far is only about 80%. So if your tree has 10 bugs, 8 will die, 2 will live and become resistant to future treatments. So treating basically just prolongs the death of the tree and kills many insects, that we need to survive. What worries me the most, is what these chemicals do to the environment. Granted, some Master Arborist have been successful at preventing large important trees from falling to the EAB, but the introduction of the active ingredients of these insecticides, over the course of several years has a widespread negative affect on the environment that is not easily measured, so to say they are harmless, is misleading. If you are offered a treatment, before you sign the line, Ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet)of the active ingredient. If they cannot present this immediately, simply say goodbye and close the door, as this is a clear and obvious sign that they are no professional. If they do have it, take it and do your own research before agreeing to the service. You will clearly see that these chemicals possess a serious threat to you, me and every living thing. Take Emamectin Benzoate, the active ingredient in the top treatment….the most popular injection treatment. Its the one that has a huge marketing department behind it. They are doing a great job, as every time you read a article about EAB, it is listed. Do a Google search on its toxicity, not only to bees but to many living organisms. Lets take any leaf eating insect for example. This same insect is then eaten by a bird, say a Turkey and then that Turkey ends up on your table………see where I am going with this!  This is true for all of them, like I said, do your research, you will see. Once you start treating your tree, depending on the brand, it is something that you will need to continue for the life of the tree. Often leading to more expense over the long term than removing it and replacing it.

All of them, the chems, are HIGHLY TOXIC TO ALL POLLINATORS. That means that they kill our honey bees. And that is no good. We need our Bees, without them, we die!! Most of them are HIGHLY TOXIC TO ALL AQUATIC LIFE. The chemicals leach very easily through the soil and quickly make its way into the water. Killing fish and polluting the environment in a big way. So next time you pull that Catfish out of the river, clean it and cook it, I hope it tastes good. This is what the manufacturers don”t want you to know. They do list this in the labels, but in the small print……… They are pushing revenue and could care less about the environment. They say they do, but how can you take them seriously when they produce a product that is so extremely harmful to many living organisms, all to try and save one. Its all about money. Granted, Ash trees are not normally pollinated by insects, but that does not matter. When you apply these chemicals, no matter how it is applied, they kill anything they touch. Ash trees are a favorite tree for bees to make a hive in. Every time I have been attacked by bees, while in a tree, it has been a Ash tree. So, even though they are not flying around from flower to flower in the tree, they do live there and when the tree is treated, you kill the bees. Some of the treatments are systemic, meaning it is injected into the tree and the chem is drawn into the “circulatory” system of the tree, up through all the branches, twigs and stems, out to the leaf and down through the root system. Now, this way, is better than the sprays and is less likely to be toxic to aquatic life, but it is still highly toxic to pollinators. That means, if the tree is dripping sap from a broken twig, a pruning cut, etc and anything feeds on or touches the sap, it will die. The loss of many good, beneficial insects will die and that is the aftereffect that they are not telling you. The other thing they forget to tell you, is although a systemic injection is much safer than a soil drench or a spray, they drill multiple holes around the base of the tree, this also damages the tree and after several years of drilling, the base of the tree begins to rot.  What if, just by chance, something that never ever happens around here……….. NEVER! Especially here in the QC! A BAD SUMMER STORM!! That never happens here right! The normal schedule to treat your Ash is late spring to early summer. Right in the middle of storm season. So, a storm rolls through, right after you treated all of your Ash trees, it tears up your  trees and drops large branches on the ground, strips many leaves off the tree. Where do they go? So now you have thousands of treated leaves all over your yard. You rake them into a pile put them in your compost pile. Again, see where I am going. Earthworms feed on this, birds feed on earthworms. You dig them up to go fishing…..

You may treat your Ash, spend a lot of money doing it, and it still can die, it probably will. You end up having the tree removed after all and your yard will still have those chemicals in it. Several studies show that the chemicals do not dissolve as fast as they say in all situations. Some have been still measurable after 20 weeks. Think about it like this, when you see someone treating plants, trees and yards with chemicals, what are they wearing? White TyVek suits with respirators, rubber boots and big yellow gloves! Hello! Does that give you the impression that it is safe! They treat your yard, then tell you it is ok for the kids to play in it! This cracks me up!

There is a product out there, that is an organic treatment, that is safe for the environment. I am currently researching this product and may offer it as a service. It will be a alternative to the big 3. If this product meets my standards, I will offer the treatment. It is also a systemic treatment that requires injecting the tree but in much less amounts. However it is not dangerous. It is a natural compound extracted from another tree that is used to disrupt the reproductive system and basically makes the eggs non-viable. Stopping them from fully developing. It is required that only persons with a QAL (Qualified Applicators License) are allowed to utilize it. This is what I am concerned with and why I have yet to use it. I have contacted to the manufacturer  to learn more about it. If I do offer it, it will be only on trees of particular significance.

Many times, there is a natural cure for bugs, like other bugs, that are predators…..good bugs. To this point, I do not believe that there is a particular bug that can be bought to fight EAB. There are many other bugs that are successfully controlled by natural predators and they are easy to obtain. So I am hoping that the bug guys hurry up. They have been breeding 3 different types of parasitic wasp with great success, little bitty wasp that do not sting humans. They are natural enemies of the EAB. They kill EAB in various different ways, using the eggs and larvae as food sources for their own offspring. They have released these wasp in several locations throughout the US and are currently upgrading their breeding facility in Michigan to be able to produce many more. It is still in study and I am not sure if these little studs will be available for purchase. They have no known negative impact on the environment. This would be the best course of action in my opinion. It may be a long shot, to think we could take care of the problem completely with this, but they are having great success where they have deployed them and the Ash trees in theses areas are thriving because they now have body guards!  Check out the video on this, its pretty cool!

Treating your Ash tree with these toxic chemicals is just money wasted and more nasty chemicals introduced to the environment. Whatever the long term effect will be, it won”t be good. All of their stats come from perfect world scenarios, and we do not live in a perfect world do we? It never is,  and there is always some unforeseen circumstance that shows its ugly head later down the road. Too many yahoos are going to be out and about , going from door to door telling you that the sky will fall if you do not treat, right then, right there. Every lawn guy, landscaper and jack of all trades is going to be all over this. Do you think it is smart to trust the guy that does roofing, siding, concrete, landscape, lawn mowing, installs retaining walls and patios to be a true professional tree guy! This scares me to death. If one of these so called pros accidentally spills this stuff next to a stream or creek,  the result will be disastrous, and this will happen ………..actually, it already has. Most of them cannot identify an Ash tree and I have already dealt with a lady that had her Oak, Maple and a Birch treated for EAB!  These guys simply do not care, they just want your money and could care less if they damage anything in the process.

If you have any questions, it is imperative that you talk to a I.S.A Certified Arborist, an actual tree professional. Not some Jackwagon, that was just released from prison, who removed a low branch off your tree, so he could mow around it and now considers himself a tree professional.

So that is where I am at with it. I have a QAL (Qualified Applicators License) on staff and we can perform the treatments, but I will not. I will refrain from this service. It is nature, and this happens, is it good for your cool tree in the back yard, no, I suppose not, and I get it, you want to save the tree that you planted many years ago. BUT! If you asked the tree what it thought about all this and it could answer, I guarantee it would be against all chemicals. It is called natural selection and this sort of thing has happened since there were trees on Earth. Natural Selection is at work. With that being said, it was simply fast forwarded by the movement of shipping crates from China to the US, by man. So it is a naturally occurring epidemic, sped up by man. The Ash trees in China have evolved to build a natural tolerance to the EAB, when they came to North America, our Ash trees had never been exposed to them before, so they never had a reason to build any type of resistance to the bug and are much more vulnerable. The bug loves this and is going crazy, the population grows up to 5000% per year.  Some Ash trees will already have a natural resistance and without any treatments, they will survive, but they are few, far and in between. As the weak trees are killed, by bug or by saw, the healthy ones will remain, reproduce and their offspring will be hardened to the bug. But this will take hundreds of years. If your tree has EAB, confirmed by a ISA Certified Arborist, then you have a decision to make. Do you treat it and kill all kinds of beneficial bugs and hope for the best, or do you remove it and start over. Some people do not care about the effects on the environment and will dump all kinds of chemicals into their yard, trying to save a beat up old Ash tree that they have never cared about before. These are the same guys that dump used car oil in the stream out back.  This is what I recommend to you, remove and replace. Unless the tree has some sort of huge sentimental value, why dump a bunch of chemicals into the environment and hope for the best. Lets get it taken care of right away. By removing your tree, you are removing your problem. Take the money you would spend on treatments and plant a new tree! No chemicals needed! If a tree has lost more than 20-30% of the canopy, it is most likely too far gone and is not worth trying to treat.  When first diagnosed, it can take several years before your tree is dead, however, as that time goes by, the bug reproduces and moves over to your neighbors tree. Lets be a good neighbor, get ahead of it and get rid of it.

Normally, I am against removing a tree, unless absolutely necessary. I don”t have a boss pushing sales goals and making sure I hit that revenue goal at all cost. I am not in fear of losing my job or being demoted because I failed to sell unneeded services. I don”t work for commission, so I don”t have any pressure to sell, no matter the work that is done. I never use scare tactics to close the deal. So many times before,  when someone has been told by a local tree service, that they need to remove a tree, it is done with one thing in mind, money. Often,  I will come in, debunk the scare tactic and give them an honest opinion of the tree, often resulting in the tree remaining and a long term plant health care plan being established. I would rather prune your tree over the years, caring for it, instead of killing it because of some little flaw that the “others”  exploit who do not understand the biology of trees. They try to use these minor issues to convince you that the tree is going to result in a massive failure. Scare tactics are often used to make revenue goals.  So when I suggest removing your Ash, once it has EAB, it comes with a heavy heart. I don”t like to remove trees that can be saved. Some people have a perfectly healthy tree and just want it removed, for this reason or that. I always try my hardest to change their mind and often do. Some are determined, so we remove it, but I always try to get them to replace it.  I know that I have saved hundreds, if not thousands of trees, from the hands of those who only have their boss, their bad habit or court fine in mind. They will tell you anything to get you to remove it. Anything to keep their job, anything to make their boss happy.  With EAB, it is a different situation. I think the planet would benefit more, from removing the tree, replacing it with a different species, than it would from millions of trees treated with chemicals that are non-selective, killing not only EAB, but any bug that comes into contact with it. There are many more good bugs than bad and when you treat your tree, your killing many more than just EAB. Many of my friends have reported back, saying that they have treated particular trees, over the course of several years, only to lose the battle and end up removing them after all. All of their treatments were not able to stop the bug.

Something to consider, we will never have total control. Nature is much more powerful than we are. For all the trees that are treated, there are 10 times that amount in the forest. No one is treating them, they will be lost. To think that by treating your tree with these noxious chemicals, you are helping to stop the bug is false positive. The bug will never be completely stopped. It is here and we have to deal with that. Can we put a big dent in the population, absolutely. Should we just give up and let them have at it? No, we need to continue the fight. But dumping millions of gallons of into the environment is not the answer either.

There are some Ash trees, dead smack in the middle of the EAB wave, completely unaffected. Never once treated, just properly care for by a Certified Arborist. Why did they live? Because a healthy tree is the best defense. It is nature and you cannot put nature in a box. Like the trees in China, these select few have a natural resistance to the bug. There are studies being conducted on these trees and at some point, I am sure, they will start to cultivate this resistant species and we will once again be able to plant new Ash.

If you have several Ash trees on your property, and you end up having to remove them all, then use multiple different species when replacing them. One thing that has happened back east, back when the Elms where getting hit in the 70″s, once a street was stripped bare of all its Elms, they came back in and planted all new trees……..all Ash trees. Fast forward to now, and they have bare streets again. Diversification is key. Do not replace all your trees with the same species. Choose good stable trees, stay away from all the fancy hybrids. Make sure that you buy from a well respected nursery such as Wallaces Garden Center in Bettendorf, Where the trees are inspected and cared for daily. Choose multiple different species. This will hardened your property against the next wave of bugs that will come through, maybe next time it is Oak or Maple, who knows. This way, when it comes again, the next big wave of a destructive bug….. and it will, you will not lose all your trees. Again, the decision is yours. Me, I have already removed my Ash, it was already busted up from a storm and was going down hill, a sure goner if it was hit with EAB. It was replaced with a honey locust and it is thriving.

Here is a good site, lots of good info and a little bit of backup to what I am saying. If done perfectly, treatments can have a positive effect on your tree, and you can prolong the inevitable.  But it still remains to be seen of what the environmental impact will be. The fact is, we need our Bees and other bugs in a bad way, and the bad treatments will kill many.  If you do choose to treat it, consider this info when doing so.

Hold your applicator to these standards.


I hope that the eco friendly side of the green industry, who is diligently working to find that “miracle” cure or inoculation, that is completely harmless to the environment, finds what they are looking for. If they do, I will be the first one to endorse it.


Until then, Remove and Replace. No chemicals needed!





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