Episode 6 Show Notes

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In this episode, we dive into the cultural and ecological impacts of losing black ash to emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle that threatens our region's ash trees. We talk with an Abenaki basketmaker, a research forester, a county forester, an ecologist, and a landowner to learn what’s at stake, and what Vermonters can do to help keep ash, specifically black ash as part of our region's culture and our ecology. 

 Theme music was written and performed by Joanne Garton.

Music and sounds featured in this episode: 

Featured guests (in order of appearance): 

  • Kerry Wood, Abenaki basketmaker
  • Ginger Nickerson, UVM Extension, Forest Pest Education Coordinator
  • Allaire Diamond, Ecologist, Vermont Land Trust
  • Rich Chalmers, landowner
  • Ann Chalmers, landowner
  • Tony D’ Amato, PhD, Professor, Director of Forestry Program, Director of UVM Research Forests
  • Nancy Patch, Franklin and Grand Isle County Forester


For more information about emerald ash borer, visit: Vtinvasives.org

Emerald Ash Borer: Information for Forest Landowners. Frequently Asked Questions and Information produced by Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation’s Forest Health and Stewardship Program.

Ten Recommendations for Managing Ash in the Face of Emerald Ash Borer and Climate Change. Factsheet produced by Anthony D’Amato (UVM), Amanda Mahaffey and Leonora Pepper (Forest Stewards Guild), Alexandra Kosiba and Nancy Patch (VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation), and Pieter van Loon (VT Land Trust) with Forest Stewards Guild

Options for protecting ash trees with insecticide treatments. Factsheet produced by Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Ecological, silvicultural and cultural considerations for ash preservation in northern forests. Webinar with Dr. Tony D'amato, hosted by Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Black Ash: Research and Cultural Practices in the Face of Emerald Ash Borer. A webinar with researchers and practitioners from across the northeast discussing the importance of black ash, current research, and efforts to inventory stands and save seeds. Hosted by Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program and Vermont Land Trust.

Emerald Ash Borer and Riparian Forests. A podcast with Patrick Engelken, an entomologist with the U.S. Forest Service in St. Paul, Minnesota. Produced by Alison Adams, Coordinator, Lake Champlain Sea Grant and UVM Extension’s Watershed Forestry Partnership.

Get Involved

Black ash inventory on Vermont's public and private lands, including a community-based iNaturalist project. For more information, contact Charlotte Cadow Charlotte.Cadow@uvm.edu until May 12, 2023

To learn about future ash pounding events contact Kerry Wood at krwoodvermont@gmail.com

Episdoe Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Kerry Wood: Maahlakwsak is black ash trees. And my story with black ash starts from my teen years when I went and visited my great aunt. Her name is Nettie Royce, Nettie de Forge. And I walked into her house, and there were baskets all over the place: small baskets, handkerchief baskets, sewing baskets. And I asked her about those. And she shared that they were baskets that her mother, Elvine Obomsawin had made, and that was the first time that I learned a little more about my Abenaki history and it wasn’t just, “Oh, you have some relatives who are Native.”

Kate Forrer: Welcome to Heartwood Vermont: a podcast that connects Vermonters to our forested landscape through stories. And answers your questions about our forests, their management, and the forest economy. 

Lisa Sausville: We’re your hosts, Lisa Sausville, with Vermont Coverts Woodlands for Wildlife, 

Kate Forrer: and Kate Forrer with UVM Extension.

Lisa Sausville: Vermont is home to 3 species of ash trees, the green, white, and black ash. All three of our ash trees are under threat from a tiny invasive insect called emerald ash borer. The black ash are the most vulnerable of all. This loss of our ash trees is going to be felt by our forests, but also by people and communities who’ve formed a deep connection with these trees. Today, we’ll hear from a variety of voices, including Kerry Wood, an Abenaki basket maker who you just heard from, and we are also going to hear from an ecologist, a research forester, a county forester, and a landowner – and they are all diving into why black ash trees matter.

Kate Forrer: To help us understand the concern about emerald ash borer and black ash trees in Vermont, we are joined by my Extension colleague, Ginger Nickerson. Welcome Ginger.

Ginger Nickerson: Thanks for having me on the show.

Kate Forrer:  Ginger, tell us a little about what you do.  

Ginger Nickerson: I am the Forest Pest Education Coordinator for Vermont’s Urban and Community Forestry Program. Basically, I provide education to individuals, municipalities, and community groups about invasive pests that threaten our forests. As you mentioned, Lisa, we have three species of ash in Vermont. White, green, and black. And all three are threatened by emerald ash borer, or EAB for short. EAB is originally from Asia - it arrived in Michigan in 2002 and has been slowly moving east. Sadly, EAB was discovered in Vermont in 2018. Knowing this, many people are trying to figure out how to prepare for losing most of our ash species. Of the three ash species, black ash has no resistance to this beetle. And this is heartbreaking for people across the Northeast, especially indigenous peoples, who’ve used black ash for centuries to make baskets and other items. Black ash is also ecologically significant because it plays an important role along our rivers and in our wetlands buffering floods and maintaining water tables and providing habitat for wildlife.

Kate Forrer: Each of us has a connection to the trees in our woods for a variety of reasons.  That is true for black ash as well. Lisa, tell me a little about your connection to black ash.

Lisa Sausville: To be honest, Kate, I never thought much about black ash until the threat of EAB came along. Then I learned how all the ash species, but especially black ash are susceptible, and that we may lose yet another tree species like the chestnut and the elm.  It is just sad and concerning.  

Kate Forrer: So, Ginger, you recently spoke with Kerry Wood, tell us more.

Ginger Nickerson: Yeah, so Kerry is a member of the Nulhegan band of the Abenaki people and a black ash basket maker. Black ash, which is also called brown ash in some parts of the country is an important tree to indigenous people from Maine to Minnesota. Ash trees are so important, they are actually part of the Wabanaki peoples’ creation story. I asked Kerry to share that story with me.

Kerry Wood: Nd’eliwizi Kalli Abazi Alnôbaôdwa ala Kerry Wood Iglismôniwi. Nd’ain Colchester, Vermont, pasojiwo Pitawbagok. Thank you. Good morning. Wlispozwiwi. I am Kalli abazi in the Abenaki, or Kerry Wood in the English language. And I live in Colchester, Vermont, near Lake Champlain.Tabaldak is named God or the creator or the one who makes something out of nothing. And Tabaldak created all of our relations and all the world around us. The, what we call, creepy crawlers and four legged and the trees and the plants and the sea creatures and everything around us. But something was missing. So Tabaldak looked around and said the stones, they were some of the first creations, and they have wisdom and power, and so we'll make beings out of stone. And so, the stone people were made, but the stone people were really big and walked all over and they didn't really, they weren't very careful. They were very clumsy. They walked all over everything and Tabaldak was like, “oh, no, no, this is not good. They're destroying my creation. They're doing everything for themselves. They're abusing my creation and their destroying all of the other life by just walking all over everything and destroying it.” So, he broke up all the stone people, which is why there's so many stones across the Green Mountains of Vermont - everywhere in the woods - stone people. And he said, “Let's try again.” And he looked around at the creation and he noticed the ash trees. And the ash trees went with his creation - they swayed in the wind. And the ash trees with their green, and they gave oxygen for the rest of the living beings, and they worked with creation, with his creation. And they were supple, and they moved easily. And so Tabaldak had Gluskabe draw an arrow and shoot it into the heart of the ash tree, and out of the ash tree came the people. And the people worked with all their relations and the animals were willing to give up their lives to help sustain the people. But the people were also willing to nurture and only take what they need.The stories matter so much to the Abenaki people because that's where the lessons of life are learned. The creation story helps you step back and say, “Well, what is my relationship with the rest of the world? Am I Am I just looking out for myself as the stone people did? Or am I willing to look at my place within the circle, as the tree people do?”

Ginger Nickerson: We’ll hear more from Kerry later in the show about the use of black ash in basket making and its cultural importance. But let’s take a look first at where you would find black ash.

Kate Forrer: So, what I know about black ash is that they have some really cool adaptations that influence where they live and grow. They tend to grow in places where their roots can be wet -- sometimes we say black ash is one of those species that is ok getting its feet wet. You might find them in ditches along the side of a road, but more often they’ll be living in riparian areas, swamps, or wet seeps in the woods. 

Lisa Sausville: We took a little field trip to Rich and Ann Chalmers’, Coverts Cooperators, and property owners in Williamstown to learn more about where we might find black ash. Allaire Diamond, an ecologist with the Vermont Land Trust, joined us as well. 

Allaire Diamond: Yeah, you’ve got ground water….so we’re at a seep at the edge of this wetland. Ann and I were just talking about the wildlife value of these kinds of wetlands and how when you have a groundwater seep, there is groundwater that is coming up, all throughout the year. And it is the temperature of the ground beneath the frostline and there is a much longer period of the year when there is green plants.  And so, animals like bears will often be here first thing in the spring and last thing in the fall because there is living, tender green plants that they can eat.

Rich Chalmers: So, this wetland area is about three acres when you include the 100-foot buffer around it. And we have woods going up on both sides and the wetland itself is kind of North-South oriented with a little dog leg on the north end. And we're just at the beginning looking in…

Allaire Diamond: Some of the plants that we're seeing -- there's the yellow birch, there's swamp saxifrage down here growing beneath our feet. There's foam flower, which is a really common plant of wetlands, but I always see it with black ash, like it's almost always growing near black ash, loves groundwater seepage. There's red spruce in here, balsam fir, obviously black ash. Red maple, probably…

Rich Calmers: And the trees are growing on little humps.

Allaire Diamond: Little hummocks. It's usually in kind of a wet place. I wouldn't be finding it on top of a rocky cliff or something like that. It's grown on a wetland and so often has a mossy base, you know, a lot of trees and wetlands have that. but you see over here there's like mosses and sort of wetland plants grow in right off the base of the tree. And it's sometimes has some really interesting lichens growing on it. There's one called Lobaria

Lisa Sausville: So black ash thrive in really wet places. Director of the UVM Forestry program, Tony D'Amato and Franklin and Grand Isle County Forester, Nancy Patch gave us some additional insights into how they’ve adapted to grow in these types of environments…

Tony D’Amato: So these aren't stagnant bog-like environments you might see with black spruce. And so, you're often finding it in these wetlands that have at least some, you know, interaction with the uplands and are getting minerals into them and then at the same time can be pretty wet for even into July if it is a normal precipitation year. But black ash is pretty well adapted to dealing with its roots being wet. It has specialized cells that allow it to bring oxygen from above the soil surface down to its roots even when they're flooded. So, it’s really well adapted to that environment.

Nancy Patch: It's a very slow growing tree to start with because of the site conditions that it's in. And it's also quite an even growth pattern, typically. And that one quality that is really is that sponginess doesn't occur as I described on just the bark, there's sponginess actually, that goes throughout the tree.

Kate Forrer: So, Ginger, help me understand. Is it that sponginess that Nancy just described, that makes black ash so good for basket making?

Ginger Nickerson: It is! Black ash is what foresters call “ring porous.” The growth that happens in spring has really big pores, while the summer growth is denser. So, when you pound on a black ash log, the spongy spring growth rings separate really easily from the denser summer growth rings so that you get these nice splints that can be peeled apart and used for weaving. Kerry does a great job explaining this process. Listeners, you can hear the sound in the background of people pounding on an ash log.

Kerry Wood: So, the inside of that growth ring is amazingly smooth and satin silk smooth - it is just phenomenal. But what's also unique about it, is it's almost like ribbon - it's very, very pliable. Some basket makers, you need to really soak and soak and soak the material you're making the basket to be able to have it be pliable. With black ash, we just moisten it, and we weave with it, and it's literally like paper ribbon. So, it's very, very unique - there is nothing like black ash to make a basket out of. It’s just so unique. And the thicker black ash, the ones that they wouldn't necessarily process down to the ribbon, are incredibly durable and strong and yet still pliable. So, making like a pack basket or a laundry basket or a feather basket. Utilitarian ones would last literally for generations. And then if you want to make more fancy baskets, the smaller ones that maybe are used for like sewing baskets, or handkerchief baskets - was a really big thing back you know, when we all used handkerchiefs more. is the smaller more pliable splints. So, like anything else, it depends on what job you're trying to do. In 2013, I had the opportunity to actually learn how to make those baskets. And I did an apprenticeship program that was sponsored by the Vermont Folklife Center, with Jeannie Brink who had become a master basket maker. And Jeannie is also my cousin. She's my father's generation, she's Nettie's daughter. And so, it came full circle, where I started learning how to make these baskets that I had seen when I was 16 or 17 years old. And in making the baskets, I started because it was just an interesting part of my family history. But it became much more than that, because Jeannie started also sharing stories of the Obomsawin family who lived in Thompson's point in Charlotte, Vermont. Simeon Obomsawin was Elvine's father, and he was hired on as a caretaker, and they were given a cabin to live in year-round so that they would keep the grounds of Thompson's point where all of the nice camps are - keep them up for the winter months and help with security and things like that. But that's where they grew up. And they made these baskets, to sell, to supplement, and to be able to afford to live there, they became a sustenance for them. And so, I started hearing stories of my family that I had never known before. And they started resonating with me, and I started feeling a connection when I was weaving with something that I didn't understand, but that was very powerful. So that really intrigued me to learn more about the language, and more about the culture. So black ash is the material that we make these baskets out of - black ash and sweet grass. And as I learned more, I discovered it's related to the creation story for the Abenaki people. And how cool is that? And I started learning more about Abenaki culture. I started learning the language and as I've learned the language, how I think and how I see the world has completely transformed. It's not just making a thing. The black ash teaches us patience. In making a basket I need to be emotionally and physically in a calm place. If you think about doing any craft, if you're tense and you're frustrated with whatever your day has been, that is not the time to sit down and make a basket. I will make mistakes - it will not go well. Community. Bringing people together, learning patience and perseverance, and being a good steward.

Lisa Sausville: So, it seems like black ash are really very site specific. How common are any of the three species of ash in Vermont?

Ginger Nickerson: We usually say that all of the ashes compose 5-7% of our forest statewide on average but that figure can vary a lot depending on where you are, and there are some areas with a much greater component of black ash.

Nancy Patch: That number dramatically increases when you get to Grand Isle. And there's probably again, we don't really know, but just as a wild guess, we'd guess anywhere between 30 to 50 percent of the composition on Grand Isle is ash. There's pockets of black ash through all the way in Highgate, and Franklin County has a great deal of black ash, and Alburgh certainly does, and it continues on down through the islands. And of course, black ash is spread throughout the state, but it really is concentrated up here in the island communities.

Kate Forrer: So, it sounds to me like you need to be in very specific places to find black ash.

Lisa Sausville: Yeah, and if I’m out in one of those places, I want to know how to identify it.  While we were out on the on the Chalmers property, I asked Allaire for some tips on how to identify black ash.

Allaire Diamond: If you walk up to it and you sort of click on it with your finger, it's a little bit squishy. It's not the only species of tree that does that. American Elm does the same thing, and it's actually quite easy to mix up American Elm and black ash. When you look at the pattern of the bark, it's a little bit of like a diamond pattern. Other species of ash green ash, white ash, have a really, really, strong diamond pattern bark. Black ash is a little bit less so because of that corkiness, there's bits that like flake and pop off of the bark. It has a pretty distinctive like light, kind of warm color. And then really distinctive for all ash species is that they are opposite branched. So, the leaves come out right across the twig from each other as opposed to alternating up the twig. If you look up into the canopy - and black ash typically does not have branches low down, they're mostly concentrated high up, and that is just a typical thing for the species - the small branches are opposite each other, coming off of the bigger branch. And in the summer, all ashes are compound-leaved trees. So, the leaf is for black ashes, probably like, I don't know, eight inches to a foot long. And it has leaflets coming off of it, and those little leaflets are also sort of opposite each other on the big stem of the leaf. And with black ash, if you are comparing it with other species of ash, the leaflets don't have a little mini stem or petiole of their own. They're just kind of stuck right up against the main stem of a leaf. It's not a very big tree. I think the biggest ever black ash tree that was recorded by the U.S. Forest Service was maybe twenty-eight inches in diameter. Which is a good size, but it is not like the biggest sugar maple tree or white pine or anything like that. This tree we're looking at right here is probably seven inches in diameter or something like that, which is a decent sized tree. It's not a tiny tree. This tree might be pretty old.

Kate Forrer: Given that black ash grow in really wet areas, is anyone talking about the hydrological importance of these trees?  And what the potential loss of black ash means for riparian areas and flooding?

Ginger Nickerson: Yes, that is a real concern among ecologists. Black ash play a really important role in maintaining the water level in forested wetlands and in areas along rivers. As trees, black ash take up a lot of water and evaporate it through their leaves in a process called transpiration. The concern is that when the ash trees in wetlands die, grasses and shrubs will take over the area -- plants that cannot take up and evaporate the same amount of water as the trees. Here’s Tony and Allaire talking more about that…

Tony D’Amato: They provide a pretty important role in terms of flood attenuation. They really play a key role in using water and kind of keeping those water tables fairly stable and low. And so, the concern is when ash dies, and it's not replaced by other tree species that those water tables will then rise and kind of swap out those spots. Once that water table goes up and you kind of have this prolonged flooding, most tree species can't deal with that. And so, you might lose the site to like more of a marsh-like condition. The mortality of ash will actually cause these areas to kind of regress into a non-forested state. And so, because ash can live in these areas, it really keeps those in a pretty key balance where it's using that water, keeping that water table stable and allowing other species to at least persist in those systems.

Allaire Diamond: We're in this wetland here, and it's a really diverse wetland in terms of the trees, right? We've got a black ash, we've got red spruce, we've got red maple, we've got Balsam fir…. And if all of these black ash trees were to disappear from EAB -- that would be very sad, but this would still remain a forested wetland. In some places where there are wetlands that are just all ash, whether green ash, or black ash, there is a potential that when EAB comes through, you end up with a just a different kind of wetland afterwards. A wetland that's less of a forested wetland. These trees, they take up a lot of water. And so, we are able to walk through this wetland and it's kind of squishy, but we're able to walk through it without getting water over our boots. But if all the trees that are in here were to be gone, it might transition to something more like a cattail swamp or maybe a shrub wetland and open a place for like non-native shrubs to come in as well.

Tony D’Amato: There's often things like reed canary grass and other invasives in the understory. So, once you lose canopy cover, it's really hard to get trees back in those spots. And so, so losing, whether it's green ash or black ash from riparian areas, a lot of those are already highly impacted with invasives and other things. It's kind of this double whammy where you're losing the canopy cover and then it's also allowing some of these invasives to explode.

Kate Forrer: So that’s really interesting - so black ash are important hydrologically, but they’re also ecologically…What are some of those benefits?

Ginger Nickerson: Yes, this came up when we were out in the woods.  Nancy shared the importance of black ash’s nutrient rich leaves, while Allaire talked about their shallow roots, and how both of these traits make black ash swamps important habitat for wildlife. Let’s hear from Nancy, Rich, and Allaire.

Nancy Patch: Ash across the board, not just black ash, has a specific importance to the forest overall, they are one of the best nutrient cyclers that we have in the forest and that cycling of nutrients allows for other species to do well. They're pulling that nutrient out of the ground and then dropping it again and through its leaves, making the source of those nutrients more available to other species.

Leah Kelleher: So, when you come out here in the spring, is it just a chorus of peepers?

Rich Chalmers: Yes, A chorus of peepers and wood frogs in particular -- in the beginning – and they are very loud. And we come out on the first rainy night…Every year we come out when the spotted salamanders are moving and mating in the pools… not everywhere but they tend to congregate, and they are in places within, you know, a couple of feet where there might be 10, 15, 20 salamanders…

Allaire Diamond: The trees that have been growing in here, they end up being pretty shallow rooted because of the constant saturation, the water in the soil. And so, they're shallow-rooted. The roots spread out kind of laterally instead of going deep into the ground. And so, when those trees die, they tip up, they'll just fall over in the root mounds. Just like this big kind of thing sticking up out of the wetland, and the log itself then starts to decompose, becomes a place where other seeds can alight and start to take root, or other plants can sort of grow up on them. And then those tip-up mounds are places where you have a little pool of water on the underside of it where the tree roots were. And there's just like interesting small insects, salamanders, or other wildlife that can be in there. There's even some kinds of tip-ups where birds will make their nests in the fine roots that are in the tip-up. So, they’re a really fun, really interesting part of what makes this wetland structurally complex. It’s not just a straight flat wet area. It’s a wet area that has hummocks from the ferns and the sedges, it has the long, partially decomposed logs….

Lisa Sausville: OK Ginger, we have learned about where black ash grow, and we have learned about the ecological, hydrological, and cultural importance.  Tell us more about EAB.  How do we know if the tree is infested with Emerald Ash Borer?

Ginger Nickerson: Well, there are a bunch of tell-tale signs you can look for. Are the branches in the canopy dying? Is the tree is sending out new side branches off of the trunk?  These are both signs of stress. And ash can get stressed and show those signs for lots of different reasons.  So, the best way to tell if a tree is infested with emerald ash borer is to look for blond patches on the bark with woodpecker holes. The woodpeckers like to eat the larvae, so they are much better at knowing when a tree is infested than people are. They are amazing at detecting them. If they find a tree with larvae in it, they will go up and down the tree, hammering at it to dig out the larvae – and this flakes off patches of the outer bark, so you will see these pinkish-yellow or blond patches on the bark. But the infestation starts at the top of the tree, and it takes a long time for the larvae to build up a big population in the tree. A tree might be infested for 3-5 years before you start to see the woodpecker activity or before the tree dies.

Kate Forrer: What will it mean to lose a species as a component of our forest?

Ginger Nickerson: I’ve been thinking a lot about that. As an ecologist, I feel like everything is connected to everything else in the forest -- or any other natural community. So, for me, losing black ash is like losing a community member -- the forest community will change when it’s gone, and the Abenaki community will lose something that is important to them in so many ways.  Here are Kerry and Nancy talking about what the loss will mean to them.

Kerry Wood: To think that my grandchildren and my grandchildren's grandchildren may never be able to handle and hold and make a black ash basket and to have that connection to their ancestors makes me really, really sad.

Nancy Patch: It breaks my heart, honestly. I sometimes look at this one tree I go to, I go to look at and see occasionally and it's just a little tree, it's just a sapling. I'm like, “Oh, maybe you can make it through this.” When that tree is gone, what is going to take its place? How are those other trees actually going to function and thrive when they're missing that? That necessary tree that is providing all kinds of resources? We know that through the leaf litter is a big possibility, but what are they also doing through the mycorrhizal network? What are they providing to their neighboring trees through those connections that we know so little about….The loss is dramatic. And just the beauty of these trees and where they are and what they provide. I just can't, I can't speak to the loss. It's more than my words can say. We don't really know what we're losing, and we may never know.

Lisa Sausville: Ginger, the thought of losing another species on the landscape feels really grim. Is there any hope?

Ginger Nickerson: So, the first bit of hope is that white ash and to a much lesser extent, green ash seem to have some resistance to emerald ash borer. It’s just a small percentage of the trees, but we’re looking for them, and the Vermont Land Trust is looking at research plots all over the state to see if they can find white ash which might be resistant to the beetle.

Kate Forrer: I’ve heard that there is some research into biocontrols, what’s going on that front?

Ginger Nickerson: Biocontrols, or biological controls, are when another organism is used to predate or control an invasive species. In this case, The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is releasing parasitic wasps that feed on the eggs and larvae of the emerald ash borer. We are hoping that after the EAB population peaks, the wasps will keep EAB at low levels, giving ash trees a chance to persist in the landscape.

Tony D’Amato: Some of the bio controls do seem to be pretty effective at keeping the larvae at low densities, but on small trees. So, if you're thinking about the appetite of a parasitoid, these are these are insects that are going to feed on the on the larvae of emerald ash borer.  The reason why I argue that you should be regenerating new ash out there is because who knows when those biocontrols might come into play and be effective? They are able to keep the larvae densities low enough that the trees aren't succumbing to EAB.

Lisa Sausville: Any other strategies?

Ginger Nickerson: Another strategy is injecting the trunks with an insecticide that kills the beetle. This strategy probably presents the best hope for black ash and keeping mature black ash trees on the landscape. This is an expensive option though. So far, most of the injections have been done on urban shade trees because the injections have to be repeated every two to three years.  We’ll have more information on insecticide treatments in the show notes.

Kate Forrer: Let’s listen to some other perspectives about what landowners and managers should be thinking about and doing to manage with EAB in mind. In true Heartwood fashion, we will end this episode with a montage of voices around hope.

Tony D’Amato: I think I get a dime for every time I give Mike Snyder credit for his amazing quote: “Don't be rash about your ash.” We've always felt that a bit from the forest management perspective, you know, with any threat of an invasive insect or disease, it's still impacting the forest ecosystem. And so even though you're hyper-focused on this threat, sometimes we can make bigger impact by only focusing on the threat and not on the ecosystem or in how it impacts our objectives as a landowner.

Allaire Diamond: We would love to have people manage for conditions in the future that would allow Ash to regenerate and be and still be on the landscape. So, I think that sometimes people find that that they have EAB, there's a lot of stuff going, you know, you're hearing about it and their first instinct is just to liquidate all their ash, to take every ash tree off of their land. In doing that, they're, you know, they may be sort of heading off like the EAB risk, but they're removing the ash and all the genetics, the genetic material from the ash that may provide for a future ash population. And they also might be taking in some trees that have some natural resistance.

Tony D’Amato: From an ecological standpoint, it stinks that tree could die. But a dead tree is also super valuable time in the forest and often times our ash, particularly white ash, are some of the biggest trees in the forest. So big dead trees are even that much better to have out in the forest. So, I think it really depends on how ash fits into that landowner’s long-term vision for that forest. What are the tradeoffs of harvesting that wood versus leaving that tree as a future habitat if it does ultimately die? If we're going to actually protect some trees with insecticides, do we think a bit about are there individual trees that make more sense to invest in protecting them and keeping them out there even though it might be a cost, are there cultural or ecological or other amenity values that make it worthwhile?

Nancy Patch: We also highly recommend that ash is kept in the forest at some level through every size class. So there used to be this hope for slowing down the insect and just go in and cut all your big trees and leave the little trees. Well, that's just absolutely the worst way to look at forest management, and we're really working hard to take those thoughts out of the picture. That's just simple high-grading, and it's not good for the forest. We should be managing the forest, not the insect.

Tony D’Amato: If you're a landowner and you have a bunch of white ash on your forest that you've always viewed as a big part of your economic portfolio on that site, and there's an opportunity to do a harvest and do it in a way that thinks about the future options in that forest, not just cutting ash out, because that’s really not sustainable….

Nancy Patch: Some people have been willing to say, OK, I'm going to take a loss on any kind of economic opportunity for that small amount of ash I have on my landscape, and I'm just going to leave all of my ash in the hopes that there are some resistant trees within that within that composition of their forest. If the tree is cut, we won't know if it's resistant. Keep it in the landscape to the highest degree that you can throughout all of the age classes. And then there are folks out there that are doing amazing work with injecting the insecticide, which we know works. therefore, keeping that seed source there as well. If we can find just pockets of these opportunities to keep black ash alive while we're waiting for nature and science to catch up.

Allaire Diamond: At the Land Trust, we have a staff of foresters who work with our conserved landowners. And we recommend that they don't necessarily make changes in their forest management plan if they find emerald ash borer, that they continue to manage the same way that they that they otherwise would.

Rich Chalmers: So that's what we do in our management plan, making sure that there’s long term possibilities for ash and not just removing it because we can.

Tony D’Amato: One pathway is you’re a pessimist, and you know, you really can't do anything about it and really almost take a defeatist attitude. The equally dangerous is an optimist. You kind of ignore it or don't think it's a big deal and don't change. But I say, the real path to take is to be a silviculturist which is to integrate information both ecological, social, cultural, economic and to adapt. I think there's a real power in the collaborations that are that are building and sadly, these because these topics really transcend, not just foresters, but really many other disciplines. And most lay people are worried about the emerald ash borer, there's the opportunity to really kind of build coalitions around topics and issues.

Lisa Sausville: It’s really good to hear that there are some options for keeping ash as part of our forests. What about preserving black ash as a resource for indigenous people or other basket makers?

Ginger Nickerson: Yeah, so Kerry Wood and others are working on ways to harvest some black ash to preserve the splints for future generations, and maybe treat some black ash trees to try to keep them as seed sources. But to pound that much ash is going to require a lot of people.

Kerry Wood: Maybe we can save seeds, maybe we can have small nurseries. Maybe we can at least recognize the ones that are impacted that need to be harvested, we could process the splint today from the log. Once that's in raw splint form. If you keep that inside in an okay environment that's going to last hundreds of years look at your furniture in your house if you keep it out of the elements. So maybe, maybe we can process enough that my grandchildren's great grandchildren can have some splint available until the trees can come back. And we can save enough trees and inject them with the  - give them a vaccination. So, a few trees don't succumb to the beetle. And then as time goes on, saplings will grow. But in the meantime, we're hoping to have some educational workshops and ash pounding events. Maybe we can work with some of the tech schools, we’re beginning some conversations. This is going to take the entire community of Vermont to have any level of impact in preservation for future generations. And it really matters and what an opportunity to bring different state agencies together and different members of the community together in a common goal.

Lisa Sausville: In past episodes, we’ve talked about land ownership as a journey. The issue of ash and EAB is no different. Owning and caring for land is a process that starts with identifying your values, knowing what you have for a resource, and making decisions about its stewardship.  We are so fortunate to have many professionals in VT to help landowners make decisions about their land along the journey.  We’ve compiled a list of these resources in the show notes. 

Kate Forrer: Ginger, thank you so much for joining us, and for bringing your expertise and your passion to the conversation. I’ve learned so much today from you and from all of our guests.

Lisa Sausville: It’s been really fun talking about this. Although it seems like a big topic that is complicated and complex, we’ve drilled down to some of these interesting pieces of hope, and I love the cultural pieces that are connected to this tree.

Kate Forrer: We’re not done talking about this issue yet. There is still so much more that we are learning about black ash, about ash in Vermont, and about emerald ash borer.

Lisa Sausville: So maybe a future episode?

Ginger Nickerson: Absolutely!

Lisa Sausville: We want to thank all of our participants: Tony D'Amato, from UVM Forestry Program; Allaire Diamond, with the Vermont Land Trust; Kerry Wood, an Abenaki basket maker; Nancy Patch the Franklin and Grand Isle Forester; and Rich and Ann Chalmers, Vermont Coverts Cooperators, and landowners in Williamstown. And a special thank you to our guest host, Ginger Nickerson from UVM Extension. Ginger, any last words?

Ginger Nickerson: Yeah, sure. If people are interested in connecting with Kerry about how to help with the effort to preserve ash splints, her email will be in the show notes, along with many other resources. If you want to learn more about emerald ash borer, or if you think you’ve seen a tree that might be infested with emerald ash borer, go to the Report It link on VTinvasives.org.

Kate Forrer: This has been Kate Forrer

Lisa Sausville: Lisa Sausville

Ginger Nickerson: and Ginger Nickerson.

Kate Forrer: You’ve been listening to Heartwood Vermont, hosted by Vermont Coverts, UVM Extension’s Urban and Community Forestry Program, and UVM’s Center for Research on Vermont.

Lisa Sausville: This episode of Heartwood was produced by Leah Kelleher and made possible by funding from Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets, and the USDA APHIS. The interviews we heard were conducted in collaboration by the podcast team and Ginger Nickerson. Thanks for listening.