# The Slow Storm: Tree Mortality in CT from Invasive Insect Pests

By Thomas E. Worthley, UConn Associate Extension Professor, Forestry

During the early summer of 2018 it became apparent that numerous trees throughout eastern and southern Connecticut did not produce leaves this spring, having died sometime during the winter. While it is not unusual to lose a tree or two to natural causes here and there at any time of year, the massive scale and extent of oak tree (Quercus spp.)mortality during the winter of 2017 to 2018 due to the combination of recent gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar) infestations and associated drought conditions is notable and concerning. Combined with the anticipated loss of ash trees (Fraxinus spp.)in many areas due to the invasive emerald ash borer (Agrillus planipennis), which has been moving across Connecticut from where it was initially found in northern New Haven County, the sheer numbers of LARGE standing dead trees throughout the state presents what might best be described as a slow-moving environmental disaster.

Emerald ash borer first appeared in the Connecticut landscape in 2012 after a slow but relentless spread across the country and has been gradually decimating the ash population in Connecticut since that time. A long period of detection sampling and information dissemination has raised the awareness about this pest with professionals, elected officials and members of the public. We’ve known it was coming and in many ways arborists, foresters, town staffs, CT-DOT and utilities have been preparing for it.

The sheer degree and extent of oak tree mortality in southeastern Connecticut, on the other hand, was unexpected and has overwhelmed many homeowners, Tree Wardens, foresters and others.

Many adult citizens recall severe gypsy moth defoliations during the early 1980s. At that time the forest took on a winter-like appearance across a large portion of the state for a couple summers in a row as the population of gypsy moth caterpillars exploded into our vast oak forest canopy. The caterpillar population then crashed as quickly as it grew (due to caterpillar disease factors) and since that time fungal and viral diseases, among an assortment of other caterpillar predators, has kept the population in check. Those of us that take note would see only spot infestations in various locations since that time. During the 1980s, as expected, trees produced a second set of leaves each of those summers, and while there was some mortality, the severity was not as intense or as wide-spread.

Also, in some places an additional secondary mortality event is evident. Early and mid-season browning of leaves on individual trees that leafed-out and seemed fine this spring indicates that other pests or diseases are continuing to affect previously stressed trees. Among the factors that might be responsible are two-lined chestnut borer, a native pest, and armillaria fungus, also known as “shoestring” fungus.

The current problem is two-fold:

First, very large dead trees with wide spreading crowns are very numerous along some roadways in eastern Connecticut. These conditions seem quite variable. One can drive several miles along a local road and not see any dead trees and then pass a stretch that has as many as 30 or 40 dead trees per mile. Implications for public safety are apparent.

Second, there are forest stands throughout the affected area experiencing severe mortality rates. This author has been in stands ranging from a few more dead oaks than usual to as much as 80-90% canopy loss. And these are not necessarily the poor-growing, stressed and uncompetitive trees, but are often tall magnificent trees with large crowns that seemed most robust and healthy. Assessment efforts are underway to ascertain the degree and special extent of mortality in forest stands.

From a timber value standpoint the potential for severe economic loss for woodland owners is potentially staggering. The total volume of commercially valuable timber, standing dead, that might be salvaged is beyond the capacity of the timber industry to address it. From a public safety point of view, the numbers of dead trees that have the potential to ultimately impact roadways and power lines is well beyond the capacity of property owners, town budgets, CT-DOT and/or utilities to address.

Initial data from a random sampling of ninety miles of local roads in several towns from Sprague to Haddam has indicated an average of 18 dead roadside trees per mile, half of which can be categorized as high potential risk. This roadside tree mortality survey is continuing on more local roads in more towns. Additional survey data is being collected by a team from UConn.

High-potential-risk trees photographed in Higganum and Brooklyn, CT in mid-June, 2018. Photos: Tom Worthley

During roadside tree mortality surveys, a tree will have been characterized as high potential risk if it is a large tree, with slight to severe lean toward the road and/or with most of its limbs and branches over the road, such that if not removed, half or more of the mass of the tree will, over time, eventually drop in the road. A sampling of roads in East Haddam, for example, where mortality from both gypsy moth and emerald ash borer is occurring, indicated 134 such high-potential-risk trees on 21 miles of road (smaller, less-potentially risky trees are not included, but are much more numerous) for an average of about 6 problem trees per mile. At a cost of somewhere between $500.00 and$1000.00 per tree, just those 134 trees will cost upwards of $67,000, perhaps over$100,000 for removal. State data for local road mileage estimates 118 miles of local roadway in East Haddam, the problem dwarfs the $25,000 annual budget the town allocates for tree issues. One or two or a half-dozen dead trees along roads in town might be “acceptable” risk, but if the sampling data is accurate and we estimate over 700 potentially problematic trees in town, it will (if not addressed) become downright risky to drive or walk in the community over the next few years. Key are the phrases “potentially problematic” and “over the next few years”. Unlike ash trees, dead oak trees do not decay and disintegrate in a short period of time. The first heavy, wet snow will bring down small twigs and branches this winter, next summer, larger limbs and branches will decay and drop, a few at a time. Larger limbs and trunks of oak trees might retain some structural integrity for another 3 to 5 years, but eventually the root system will rot and, gravity being the law, the entire remainder of tree will topple in whichever direction it leans. The more severe the lean, the sooner it will happen. Liability for possible damage or injury, even a few years from now when gypsy moth is old news, is likely to rest with whoever owns or is responsible for the tree in question. In July of 2018 two ad-hoc meetings were held by concerned stakeholders to exchange information and discuss roadside tree mortality. Attendees at these meetings included representatives from CT-DEEP, CT-DOT, Eversource, UConn, some town elected officials, CIRMA, Tree Wardens and members of the forestry and arboricultural communities. The discussion was wide-ranging and thorough. Major points of agreement amongst attendees included the following: • Roadside tree mortality presents a serious potential public safety hazard. • The scale and scope of the problem is beyond the capacity of CT-DOT, Eversource and many towns to address the issue. • Time is of the essence. Dead trees are unpredictable and dangerous for tree workers and timber operators, and become more dangerous the longer they stand. • Additional assessment data is essential, plans to continue that effort should be encouraged. • Emergency funding and logistical support should be sought. Is FEMA an alternative? Recommendations for homeowners and landowners with dead trees near boundary lines or roadways are to obtain the help of an arborist or qualified tree service as soon as possible. Dead trees are hazardous trees and the owners of hazardous trees can be liable for damage or injury they might cause. The sheer number of trees that need attention has made it difficult to contract with arborists, so be persistent, but also be careful about engaging inexperienced or unlicensed contractors. Check references. A listing of licensed arborists can be found at the web site of the Connecticut Tree Protective Association, www.CTPA.org. Woodland owners are advised to consult with a Connecticut Certified Forester about the condition of trees on their properties. Recommendations for management actions will vary depending on morality severity and size of that affected area. A listing of Foresters can be found at the CT-DEEP Forestry Division web page. Look for the “Certified Forest Practitioners” listing. Text within the document explains the roles and authorizations for different levels of certification, and is important to note. Landowners should be aware, however, that trees can lose some commercial value once they have died, and that stands with numerous dead trees to harvest are likely to be extremely dangerous to work, again potentially affecting value. Please do not attempt to remove or harvest dead trees on your own without proper personal protective equipment (hardhat, eye and ear protection, chaps) and some chain saw safety training. Woodland owners with specific questions can contact me at thomas.worthley@uconn.edu. Severe canopy loss/oak mortality at Beaver Brook State Park in Chaplin – mid June 2018 # Telling Stories With Maps Cary Chadwick, UConn CLEAR, used the research results on black bears in Connecticut to create a companion “story map,” an application created by GIS industry leader Esri that enables the seamless combination of online maps with other types of information such as images, videos, graphs and graphics. Story maps are designed to communicate complicated information, data, and analysis to the public in a user-friendly, interactive story-telling experience. The Bears are Back story map includes information about the research project, including: • Recolonization of historic black bear range in northwestern CT • Sow (female) & cub sightings by town • Reported incidents and conflict frequency maps • Locations where conflict can be predicted based on incidents and landscape characteristics • Research methods and location of field sites • Wildlife camera trap photographs of corral visitors • Bear counts and estimated “center of activity” per individual • Extent of “exurban” areas in CT where ideal development patterns may lead to higher concentrations of bears • Estimated distribution map of current estimated bear density across northwestern CT • Links to more information about how individuals can become “bear smart” and co-exist peacefully with CT’s black bears • Link to research published in Landscape and Urban Planning • Additional information from UConn’s Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Center and CT DEEP. Visit the Bears Story Map: https://s.uconn.edu/bears. # 40 Gallon Challenge Connecticut residents are invited to join the 40 Gallon Challenge and take on new practices to increase water conservation. The 40 Gallon Challenge is a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. As a participant in the challenge, one commits to taking on additionalindoor and outdoor water savings activities. Impactful actions to choose from include: installing a “smart irrigation controller” that adjusts for temperature and precipitation (40 gallons daily savings), replacing an old, non-efficient showerhead with low flow showerhead (20 gallons daily savings), and fixing a leaky toilet and faucet (45 gallons daily savings). Participation is open to residents and businesses of all states and counties. To sign up, visit http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/and fill out a pledge card. By Angie Harris # Quantifying Water Use “New York City is surrounded by water,” Angie Harris says, “I realized it was a great source of beauty, transportation, and recreation. But it was also contaminated and deeply problematic.” Angie grew up in Queens, New York. She realized water was a crucial resource of concern while an undergraduate at New York University studying environmental sciences. The interdependent relationship of farming, water and land was also intriguing to Angie. Precipitation and ecology are critical to success in farming. She earned her masters’ degree in environmental science at the University of Rhode Island and worked as a research fellow at the Environmental Protection Agency in the Global Change Research Program. Angie joined UConn Extension two years ago as the Program Coordinator for the Agriculture Water Security Project. The Agriculture Water Security Project is part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)’s Regional Conservation Partnerships Program and promotes conservation assistance to agricultural producers. The program facilitates Extension’s work in ensuring farmers are thinking about and preparing for drought. “I serve as a resource for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners to guide and advise them on water conservation and drought preparedness and management. I also serve as a network builder and connect them to other existing resources and organizations,” Angie says. She uses a combination of her education, and personal experience as a full-time farmer for three years in her role on the project. “My mission is to increase the adoption of conservation practices and activities throughout the state.” Extension is assessing how much water farmers use, and completed a statewide water use survey on irrigation practices and water availability concerns. Next, a pilot metering project at 12 farms tracked their weekly water use for two years. The farms included vegetable, dairy, and nursery and greenhouse operations. “The farmers kept diligent records and it was inspiring to see how they became scientists and water managers. A curiosity emerged around water use and they demonstrated that they really wanted to know how much water they were using and when,” Angie says. A key turning point in the water project came at the end of 2016, a serious drought year for Connecticut. UConn Extension hosted a drought listening session for farmers at the Capitol and documented their concerns and ideas in a clear way that was communicated with the state Department of Agriculture and NRCS. Connecticut developed a state water plan over the last few years. Mike O’Neill, associate dean for outreach and associate director of UConn Extension, served on the planning committee and represented agriculture in the plan’s development. The next step for the Agriculture Water Security Project was helping farmers prepare drought plans and connecting them to financial assistance from NRCS. A total of 10 projects were provided financial assistance related to developing more robust and secure irrigation infrastructure. Projects included new wells and buried irrigation pipeline. “We helped a couple of farms access funding to install wells, and it continues to be rewarding to see how pleased the farmers are to have the new resources,” Angie mentions. The Extension project continues to offer irrigation and drought planning resources for farmers. “I’m excited to see farmers living out their values around land stewardship and food production in thoughtful and creative ways. There is always something that people can do, or a small action they can take to be a mindful citizen,” Angie says. “There is always more to learn, for farmers and residents. For instance, knowing how much water it took to make your jeans or plastic food packaging – it’s important for all of us to continue our learning around the impacts of our actions and consumption.” Angie led UConn Extension’s initiative around the 40-Gallon Challenge, a national call for residents and businesses to reduce water use on average by 40 gallons per person, per day. It quantifies impacts on the linkage between small actions and water use. Citizens nationwide are encouraged to participate in the 40-Gallon Challenge by enrolling at http://www.40gallonchallenge.org/. Materials were developed and promoted by Angie and Casey Lambert, a student intern, that quantified water saved by various actions residents can take in their home and yard. Connecticut is no longer in a drought. But the work of stewardship continues. Angie’s goal is to prepare farmers and residents before water resources become a crisis. By encouraging everyone to simplify, we hone in on the essential needs and ensure successful growing seasons in the years to come. This project is sponsored by USDA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Award identification 68-1106-15-05. Article by Stacey Stearns # No Place Like Home: Black Bears are Back Connecticut is bear country. It may sound strange, but western Connecticut is home to a growing population of American black bears. While bears may at times look out of place in the fourth most densely populated state, black bears living around humans is becoming more and more common not only in Connecticut, but across North America. This new reality has instigated new research to understand how bears respond to development, and may require a shift in human perspective to coexist with bears. Tracy Rittenhouse, assistant professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, focuses her research on how wildlife responds when habitat conditions change. Rittenhouse is interested in key questions about how wildlife interacts in their habitat and what happens as Connecticut becomes a more exurban landscape, defined as the area beyond urban and suburban development, but not rural. Rittenhouse wants to see from a management perspective what species are overabundant and what are in decline in exurban landscapes. She is interested in looking at the elements of what is called “home” from the perspective of a given species. In Connecticut, 70 percent of the forests are 60 to 100 years old. The wildlife species that live here are changing as the forest ages. Rittenhouse notes that mature forest is a perfect habitat for bears and other medium-sized mammals as well as small amphibians. Black bears like this mature forest because they eat the acorns that drop from old oak trees. Forests are also a preferred environment for humans. Exurban landscapes that are a mixture of forest and city are becoming the fastest-growing type of development across the country. The mixture of the city on one hand and the natural environment on the other is positive for humans, but it is not yet clear if wild animals benefit from this mixture. Exurban landscapes are ideal places for species that are omnivores and species that are able to avoid people by becoming more active at night. Species that shift their behavior to fit in with variations in their environment survive well in exurban locations. Rittenhouse collaborates with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s (DEEP) Wildlife Division on real life wildlife issues. “Working with DEEP is my way of making sure I am asking research questions that are applicable to real world situations,” she said. “I often try to identify actions that wildlife management professionals or urban planners can take that will allow a species to live in an area. The action is often simple, often a slight change, but we hope that a small change may keep a species from declining or becoming overabundant.” “We studied black bears by collecting hair samples. Collecting black bear hair is not as difficult as it sounds, as bears will use their nose to find a new scent even if they need to cross a strand of barbed wire that snags a few hairs. The hair contains DNA and therefore the information that we used to identify individuals. For two summers we gathered information on which bear visited each of the hair corrals every week. In total we collected 935 black bear hair samples,” Tracy says. As Connecticut residents revel in the open spaces of exurban lifestyles, Tracy Rittenhouse and her students keep watchful, caring eyes on the effects of human behavior on wild animals that have no voice. Home may be where the heart is or where one hangs one’s hat, but for the wild critters of Connecticut, home may be a precarious place as they adapt to change. Article by Nancy Weiss and Tracy Rittenhouse # CT MS4 Guide The CT MS4 Guide website (http://nemo.uconn.edu/ms4) was established to provide a repository for NEMO trainings, materials, tools, and templates that towns can use and modify to meet local needs. Every year, NEMO will also be providing webinars and workshops to help towns and institutions address the more complex portions of the permit. In the first year of this program, NEMO educated towns on the new requirements through a series of webinar presentations reaching nearly 500 viewers, travelled to 20 town halls to help staff understand and plan for the new requirements, and held a statewide workshop on detecting and eliminating pollution from the stormwater system. NEMO’s Connecticut MS4 Guide (http://nemo.uconn.edu/ms4) is an online repository for guidance, templates, data, and other tools to help communities comply with new statewide stormwater regulations. NEMO also developed templates that towns could use to create a Stormwater Management Plan, an annual report with town progress for DEEP and citizens, and model local ordinance language to respond to requirements in the permit. Article by Amanda Ryan, Dave Dickson and Chet Arnold # Supporting Communities Responding to New Stormwater Regulations UConn Extension’s Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO) program is a national leader in developing innovative approaches to help communities address water quality issues. NEMO has been working directly with Connecticut municipalities for 26 years, won multiple national awards, and inspired a national network of sister programs in 33 states. Over the past year, the program has undertaken an innovative new role, as NEMO has become an advisor, helper and cheerleader for the 121 municipalities in the state charged with meeting stringent new stormwater regulations. In 2017 a new statewide regulation under the Clean Water Act went into effect that significantly changed the way municipalities and state and federal institutions must manage stormwater runoff. The long-awaited update to the State’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit is more targeted, specific and extensive than the previous permit, placing a great deal more responsibility on municipalities to reduce the amount of pollution entering waterways via local storm drain systems. Many municipalities were overwhelmed by the challenge of learning, planning, and budgeting for the new stormwater control measures, particularly in the midst of increasingly strained local funds. In an effort to lessen that burden on towns, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) entered into a unique partnership with the NEMO program, part of the Center for Land Use Education and Research, or CLEAR – a university center based out of Extension and the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment. DEEP is providing support to NEMO through a grant to create and implement a multifaceted assistance program for MS4 towns and institutions throughout the five-year term of the new regulation. The NEMO program hired a new Municipal Stormwater Educator, Amanda Ryan, as a “circuit rider” available to work with any towns or institutions to explain the new requirements and how they can go about complying with them. This nationally unique approach of providing outreach in partnership with Extension to lessen the burden of complex new regulations appears to be paying off. Last year all of the 121 regulated municipalities submitted their permit registration within the first 6 months of the effective date of the regulation, that was much quicker than under the previous permit without NEMO support for communities. As DEEP staff put it, “When we originally issued the MS4 permit in 2004 it took over 2 years to get all the towns registered. We also issued over two dozen Notices of Violation in 2006 and three Consent Orders in 2008 for towns that either hadn’t completed the registration process (it was a two-step process back then) or hadn’t submitted any annual reports or both. Needless to say, this time around has shown much better success. Frankly, our success in getting such good compliance this time around has to do with you folks (NEMO).” This program has also saved DEEP staff time answering individual questions from towns and enabled the development and dissemination of guidance on some of the murkier permit requirements, two roles that NEMO has taken on in this first year. From the towns’ perspective, the templates and tools NEMO developed saved them the time and expense of developing those on their own and/or hiring consultants to develop them. NEMO also developed a new MS4 map viewer (http://s.uconn.edu/ctms4map) that will help the towns prioritize where to focus their efforts to most effectively impact water quality. The map viewer identifies water bodies considered impaired by stormwater runoff and areas of high impervious cover. In addition, the towns now have an alternate source to consult for advice on complying with the permit, rather than ask those who are also responsible for judging their compliance with the MS4 permit. As one town put it, “I would like to thank the Center for Land Use Education And Research (CLEAR) for the assistance it has provided to the Town of East Hartford and other communities in the State with the MS4 program. The information and assistance provided by CLEAR has enabled our Town to save precious resources while complying with the requirements of the MS4 Permit.” – Warren Disbrow, Assistant Town Engineer, East Hartford, CT The effort is also showing ancillary benefits to the state. One of the data layers in the MS4 map viewer is a new statewide high resolution impervious cover data layer acquired by NEMO to help communities identify high impervious cover areas. A geospatial expert at Esri, the primary GIS software company, found the new layer and combined it with parcel and address data to create a new statewide building address layer. The state Office of Policy and Management (OPM) reports that the new layer saved the state more than$500,000 to acquire on their own.

While just over a year in to this 5-year partnership, the initial results suggest a potentially efficient and cost effective new model for states to launch and manage new environmental regulations. For a small investment, this approach makes it easier for MS4 communities to meet more stormwater requirements and results in a higher level of compliance – not to mention the additional environmental benefits of improving stormwater management practices across the state.

Article by Amanda Ryan, Dave Dickson, and Chet Arnold

# MS4 General Permit Webinar

Our UConn Center for Land Use Education and Research (CLEAR) is presenting on webinar on Tuesday, June 26th at 2 PM on the Year 2 Task List for MS4 General Permits.

Connecticut’s updated MS4 permit begins its second year on July 1st. Now that a year has passed, MS4 towns and institutions may be getting the hang of things but with a new year comes at least a few new tasks.

This webinar will cover the permit tasks that recur each year, highlight the new tasks due over the next year and provide an update on upcoming workshops and new tools.
Presenters:

Amanda Ryan, Municipal Stormwater Educator & Dave Dickson, NEMO Co-Director

# Understanding Gypsy Moth Outbreaks

Gypsy moths (also known as the North American Gypsy Moth or the European Gypsy Moth) were imported to North America from Eurasia in 1869 for a silk production experiment. They have caused periodic defoliations in New England since then and particularly severe defoliations in the early 1980s and again in Connecticut and Massachusetts in 2016 and 2017. (Gypsy moths do not build webs – the webs you see in cherry trees are tent caterpillars.)

Female moths lay between 500 and 1,000 eggs that overwinter until spring when they hatch. Eggs are usually found underneath the bark scales of trees, on trunks, branches or other protected sites. Eggs last for 8-9 months before they hatch. Adults only live for about one week while they mate and lay eggs. Gypsy moth populations can persist with very low numbers for years but under the right conditions can have outbreak years where populations explode.

The caterpillars feed on leaves of most deciduous trees and many conifers as well. After feeding for some time they descend to the ground by means of silk threads to change size (molt). Silk threads and numerous hairs on the bodies of small, early-instar (stage) caterpillars allow them to be spread by the wind. These caterpillars change size three times before entering the pupal stage and maturity.

Gypsy moths only damage trees during the larval (caterpillar) stage when they are feeding on the leaves, and leaf-feeding and defoliation is the only type of damage they do. In high numbers they can completely defoliate the trees. One gypsy moth caterpillar can eat as much as eleven square feet of leaf area.

Most deciduous trees have the ability to re-set buds and produce a second set of leaves following defoliation.

Coniferous trees do not have this ability. Multiple defoliations can be problematic for the trees. Gypsy moth caterpillars will feed on most tree and shrub species (500 total species!) but prefer oak and beech. Tulip trees (yellow poplar) are not affected. Pines and hemlocks are likely to die after one defoliation.

Multiple defoliations combined with drought are causing individual tree and stand-level mortality in some areas. Trees that have not “leafed-out” in 2018 can be seen in numerous locations around the state. In some places, large individual roadside trees and trees near structures that have died present potential future safety hazards. In forest stands on state and private forest lands, sufficient oak mortality can be observed to warrant consideration of forest harvesting activities to salvage timber value. Private woodland owners are well advised to consult with a CT-Certified Forester to evaluate their woodland conditions. (Links provided below.)

Since the 1980s, a fungus from Japan, Entomophaga maimaiga, has been keeping gypsy moth populations under control but during dry conditions the fungus is less active. Gypsy moth populations seem to explode when there are dry conditions during the spring and summer months.

Natural controls include:

• Birds (limited effectiveness, small instars only)
• Vertebrates (deer mice and shrews)
• Invertebrates (ants and ground beetles, parasitic flies and wasps)
• Viral Disease Wilt
• Pathogens like Entomophaga maimaiga fungus

There are a few management tools available:

• Bacteria-based treatments exists.
• Soapy water sprays (horticulture soap/oils mixed with water).