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260,000 or so words

Next week’s Listening Post will begin the fourteenth year of its publication. With only a couple misses each year, I will have gone on at length about something or other about 650 times and sent it out to you in email every week. At roughly 400 words a crack, that makes about 260,000 words. And with the median length of a novel in English being 64,351 words (the exact length of “Brave New World,” coincidentally), I have sent you four novel’s worth of prose, spiced with the occasional poem. Makes me sleepy to think about it.

The format has not changed much over the years: column from me, best stuff of the previous week, station news, featured events, and let’s not forget the ritual solicitation of funds. So why, you might ask (if you are one of the couple thousand people who also started receiving the NCPR Daily this week), have we messed with a good thing?

Mail sorting, San Francisco, 1951. Photo: USMC Archives, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Mail sorting, San Francisco, 1951. Photo: USMC Archives, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

When we started the Listening Post in 2002, it was NCPR’s only email newsletter. And you became subscribed to it by doing it yourself on our website, or by donating to the station and leaving the permission to email box checked on the donation form. We began a week-daily news email a few years later that was totally automated, but we did not automatically subscribe anyone to that list.

Then a couple years ago we (me mostly) began posting a daily news email that was written and curated by hand, showcasing the best of everything we produced, published or otherwise ran across that day, and we began subscribing willing donors to both the NCPR Daily and The Listening Post.

The assumption was that after a couple of membership drive cycles, the lists would become basically identical, which was our intention—that core supporters of the station and the portion of the audience most engaged with what we do would be able to receive our best stuff each day whether they happened to wander over to ncpr.org or not that day.

So on Monday, along with the launch of Natasha Haverty’s great Tug Hill series, I set the remaining part of the Listening Post subscriber list to also get the NCPR Daily email, if they were not already receiving it.

This may have been rude of me—you may well be already receiving more email than you want. If so, I apologize. The two subscriber lists do still operate independently, so if you emphatically do not want to receive the NCPR Daily, you can click the subscription management link at the bottom of any newsletter message from NCPR and uncheck the box next to NCPR Daily.

I hope though, that you will give the NCPR Daily some time. Look at a few of them first. The Listening Post section “Best Stuff This Week,” which has proven a popular addition to the newsletter, is all drawn from features in NCPR Daily editions of the preceding week.

You may notice that that section of the Listening Post is missing this week. We don’t want to send you stuff on Saturday that we already sent to you earlier in the week. Instead of the best Photo of the Day of the preceding week, what you will see is the new Photo of the Day published that day. And instead of a “greatest hits” selection from the NCPR Daily below that, we will try to draw you in conversation about what we are doing at NCPR, or to engage you in some other way.

I’m approaching 600 words now, about 50% over my usual, so I’ll give it a rest now. I just felt I owed an explanation to those who heard from NCPR more than they expected (or asked for) this week.

Model railroading in Kingston and Albany this weekend

Choo-choo. Lionel model engine. Photo: Lucy Martin

Choo-choo. Lionel model engine. Photo: Lucy Martin

Earlier this week the hosts of the Eight O’clock Hour were chatting about how children imagine what they might become as grown-ups. Todd Moe said that he’d always wanted to become a train engineer.

When you think about it, there are some similarities between that and what he’s doing now. Both jobs involve getting to specific destinations (on time) as smoothly as possible, while keeping cargo and passengers safe and happy.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 10.35.10Comparisons aside, there is something about trains that many find enthralling. That fascination might be for the real thing rolling down the rails today, for trains of old, and/or for model trains.

Which reminds me, the Kingston Division of the Canadian Railroad Historical Association is hosting its 26th annual Rail-O-Rama this weekend, 10-4 on Saturday and Sunday.

According to the Kingston Whig-Standard:

The show will feature some impressive model displays from Ottawa, Belleville and Picton model railroad clubs, as well as a number of privately owned layouts.

There will also be vendors on site, mostly selling model railroad equipment and supplies.

A variety of displays covering railroad history, large-scale live steam modelling and working models made using Meccano, a modelling material that has been around for more than 70 years, will also welcome visitors.

According to organizers, approximately 1,000 people attend every year, with Saturday morning being the busiest time.

There’s a train and toy show in Albany, NY this weekend too, Saturday only, from 9-3. And many more throughout the year, all across North America.

Here’s video with tips on how to maximize opportunities at train shows.

There was a time when a young person in my life was a model train consumer. It seemed like a wholesome hobby, something that engaged many skills. The main downside seemed to be the issue of expense, in both time and money. There’s no end in sight, you see. Always another engine, car, more track or track lay-out to envision and build. But that’s life too, isn’t it? Learning how much one can – and cannot – afford. How to make do with what you have or expand as economically as possible.

So, train buffs out there, I am curious. Why do you like trains, or model trains?  I think it has something to do with the thrill and power of making things move. Because watching the cute little things go is almost hypnotic. But there’s way more to it than that. Do tell!

Here’s an HO scale train lay-out from Germany (depicting a fictional run through an American setting) that’s simply amazing.



CBC’s “Q” names new host: Shad

Juno-winning Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango -- better known as Shad -- will be on tomorrow's show. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

Juno-winning Canadian rapper Shadrach Kabango — better known as Shad. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

After months of looking and auditioning, Q, CBC radio’s flagship radio magazine has named a new host: Shad.

The program focuses on arts, culture, music and entertainment. The program was previously branded as “Q with Jian Ghomeshi”.

CBC reportedly condidered some 200 possible replacements, before giving the nod to Shadrach Kabango. Shad will guest on Thursday’s program and will take on the host role April 20.

“Q” has been seeking new stability after its former host (who had become one CBC’s biggest stars) was abruptly fired last October. At the time, Ghomeshi protested that he was be punished for revealing his taste for consensual “rough sex”. But allegations emerged that Ghomeshi’s conduct had been unprofessional and non-consensual. A number of  criminal charges resulted, which are still before the courts.

Shad is well-known in the world of hip-hop, but his background is far from usual. From the CBC:

The 32-year-old is a multiple Juno-nominated artist who has drawn praise in Canada and the U.S. for his humour, passion and originality, winning in 2011 for Rap Recording of the Year.

Born in Kenya to Rwandan parents, Shadrach Kabango was raised in London, Ont., going on to earn a business degree from Wilfrid Laurier University and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Simon Fraser University.

Shad is bilingual too, which is always a plus in Canada.

Time will tell if he’s a good pick. Anne Kingston had some thoughts on that and what this reflects about CBC management in this Maclean’s article of 3/11.

Here’s a musical profile on Shad the artist from CBC, and Shad’s own website.  And one of his official music videos “Shad – Progress (Part 1: American Pie, Part 2: The Future is Here)



And here’s Shad the musician appearing on Q with Ghomeshi as host from November 2013.



Q airs as a 90-minute program M-F on CBC radio. A condensed version of the program airs on NCPR from 8-9 pm weeknights.

Making cheese at home: a lesson in alchemy

The process of taking liquid milk and converting it to cheese has always struck me as something a little bit magical. No matter how much I learn about the science of cheese making, it never loses its mystical appeal. My limited efforts to make cheese at home have fueled this sense of mystery, because despite all efforts to control and contain my little milk bucket ecosystem, it never fails to have plans of its own. The beautiful thing is, though those plans may yield a result that is unexpected, they rarely yield something poisonous or inedible. Pretty good for a novice in any art.

Fresh goat’s milk chevre.

Fresh goat’s milk chevre.

This week, I had the privilege of making cheese with someone who knows a lot more about it than I do. This person is Josh Carter, Canton resident and experienced home cheesemaker. His process involves great care for sanitation and cleanliness, treating the milk, bacterial cultures, and rennet with tremendous care. He cites the variability of flavor, texture, and appearance of the final product as tremendous sources of inspiration. Unlike a commercial cheesemaker, a home cheesemaker is not bound by consumer demand for consistency. Variability is inevitable and an intriguing byproduct of the cheesemaker’s efforts to manipulate a living system. By changing temperature, humidity, air space between curds in the mold, etc., a true artisan creates an environment that allows certain types of organisms to thrive, thereby outcompeting undesirables and preventing spoilage of flavor.

One of my favorite parts of the process was also the most surprising. I typically think of cheesemaking as a sterile process dependent upon strict adherence to recipes in order to avoid the ever-looming threat of spoilage.  Josh takes a deliberate yet free-form approach, favoring the use of formulas and ratios of ingredients rather than recipes to account for variations in milk chemistry and flavor.

When the time came to fill the cheese molds, we sterilized the equipment in boiling water and meticulously set up a clean workspace. Then, Josh proceeded to roll up his sleeves and reach into the pot of cut curds and warm whey with his bare hand. He scooped the curds up and into the presses. The curds were warm and squiggly. They were soft and slightly bouncy, and it felt like the product of some kind of alchemy.

As with every fermented food product, the process of making cheese is a complex effort to mitigate the success of certain undesirable microorganisms while encouraging the growth of others. By adding salt or increasing the acid content of the milk, changing the temperature and humidity of the environment in which the cheese is aged, the cheese maker tries to both control and encourage an ecosystem to develop in a particular way. This requires a delicate balance of attention to detail and flexibility. Raw milk creates room for variability, as the organisms within it may differ with every batch of cheese, changing the minute details of the process and ultimately the flavor.

While it is not hard to make a cheese at home, it is, as with so many other culinary endeavors, an art to make a good cheese at home. I like to balance my personal experiments with much enjoyment of others’ perfected cheese. There are very good fresh cheeses being made in The North Country with pasteurized milk. Nettle Meadow Farm of Warrensburg and Asgaard Farm of Saranac Lake both make delicious goat cheeses and are available for sale throughout the Adirondacks and North Country.

Firewood bugs me

It’s economical, sustainable and keeps you in shape, not to mention that nothing feels as good as a seat by the woodstove on a sub-zero night. What’s not to like about heating with wood?

Certain things do bug people. The mess, for one. Stacking and splitting can get old. Adjusting the ‘thermostat’ may involve a trip outside to the woodpile. And occasionally, unexpected guests arrive.

Locust borer in the firewood. Photo: Susan Adams, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Locust borer in the firewood. Photo: Susan Adams, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Firewood, I’ve discovered, comes from “trees” which are covered in “bark,” under which insects can live and thrive. As the wood you bring inside warms up, it feels like winter’s over to these critters, who sally forth gleefully. Insects and homeowners are inevitably both disappointed.

The good news is you can take steps to discourage critters from making your woodpile their condo to begin with. Also, most of these guests are merely a nuisance. The bad news is, well, they’re a nuisance. The two types of firewood crawlies are shelter seekers and wood borers. Both kinds of stowaways usually head for a window where you can let them out or…whatever you want to do with them.

Shelter-seekers just need a place to crash for the winter. They’d be as happy under brush or leaves as in your firewood pile. These include wooly caterpillars, ladybird beetles, and non-insects like spiders and centipedes.

Wood borers range from less than one-eighth up to three inches long, but most are on the small side. The largest are roundheaded borers. The pine sawyer and its similar, sinister cousin the Asian longhorn beetle are examples. Flatheaded borers include the bronze birch borer and the invasive emerald ash borer. Like all bark beetles, the ambrosia and elm bark beetles are small and don’t enter the actual wood.

With some notable exceptions, wood borers seek dying or just-killed trees, sometimes arriving to lay eggs hours or minutes after a tree is felled. They rely on the phenol signature of a dead or dying tree, and they don’t need social media to keep up on news. They do need moisture, though, which plays into control options.

If conditions are right, it’s possible for particular insects to cause trouble. Tiny powderpost beetles (one-sixteenth of an inch) can infest bare hardwood in high-moisture environments. In the heating season your living space is too dry for them to survive. But firewood stored in a warm basement could be an issue if the joists are unpainted hardwood, which is sometimes the case in very old homes. Carpenter ants also need moisture to set up housekeeping. Unlike termites, they can’t eat wood, and can only make nests where moisture has initiated decay.

No matter what kind of wiggly passenger you see on firewood, never treat it with insecticide. Burning insecticide-treated wood poses a real health risk to those in the home.

The key to critter prevention is this: If they’re not in your firewood, they’re not getting inside. And they only like firewood if it’s damp. Seasoned wood that’s been stored off the ground and out of the weather is less likely to harbor insects. Keeping firewood out of garages and basements is highly recommended—ideally it should be stored away from the house in a non-attached structure.

If you cut your own wood, timing can help. Trees cut between late autumn and early spring, especially if the wood is split right away, are less likely to garner wood-boring insect eggs. However, even if insects get a start, they’ll perish when the wood is fully dry.

For more information contact your Extension office. In St. Lawrence County, call (315) 379-9192 or email ph59@cornell.edu. We’ll help you work the bugs out of heating with wood.

Paul Hetzler is a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County.

New media as a second language

This is the conundrum to which I always return. While it is nice to do blue-sky thinking about what I might do if I was inventing public media from scratch, in reality I live within an organization, a station, a network designed over nearly half a century to tell great, relatively brief stories on the radio. Radio is the “first language” of NCPR journalists and the work they do is at the highest standard. Each weekday, their reporting has at its focus a one-hour broadcast program, which acts as a limiter on how many stories are told, and on how deeply a reporter can go into the details and into the back story of each.

Radio. It's in our DNA. Photo: Britt-Marie Sohlstrom, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Radio. It’s in our DNA. Photo: Britt-Marie Sohlstrom, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

Many stories cannot be properly told within these limitations. And the broadcast answer to this is the series—a succession of stories told by one or more reporters over a number of episodes of the program that, when taken together, provide the depth and nuance the larger story requires.

Here’s the problem—this approach does not translate well into new media. The best, the most in-depth, the meatiest work done by our journalists is atomized into digital chunks spread across a number of days and weeks. And the best audience-building tools in new media—syndication by other sites, sharing on social media—apply best to single, integrated pieces of (here’s that loathsome word) content, whether short form or long form.

We recognized this problem long ago and have taken numerous stabs at integrating series into something resembling a digital whole. For example we have long used series collection pages that present links to all the stories in a series and gives summaries of each.

More recently, we (and by we I mean our new media developer Bill Haenel) have introduced a series manager that presents the entirety of all the stories in a series into a single page container. It was a huge step forward and you can see the results for yourself in our Photography Week series, and our series Local Lifts, about ski hills across the region. But it still isn’t ideal—more beads on a string than a unified whole–with separate sharing and commenting on each segment, not on the series as a whole.

But on Monday we are rolling out an approach that we see as a watershed for NCPR in digital storytelling—a series that was conceived and produced from the beginning both as a digital whole and as a broadcast series. Our radio listeners will experience the series as usual over the coming week during the Eight O’clock Hour. But Monday morning, a media-rich, lavishly photographed and elegantly appointed (if I do say so myself) presentation of the whole will be available at ncpr.org.

How do you say “stay tuned” in new media?

More signs of spring: blasting river ice in Ottawa

Ice on the Rideau River is cut then blasted to prevent flooding. Image: City of Ottawa

Ice on the Rideau River is cut – then blasted – to prevent flooding. Image: City of Ottawa

The temperature this morning felt ridiculous: -26 C (which is about -16 F).

Hey, I like winter. But really. This one’s been tough. Enough already!

So here are a few more hopeful signs of spring.

Not one but two sets of triplets were born this week at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa.

According to this CBC report (with “aww, cute” video):

Wednesday’s triplets were Toggenburg goats, while Thursday’s triplets were Boer goats.

Staff at the Experimental Farm said the odds of goats having triplets are about the same as humans having twins.

Clocks get re-set this weekend for daylight saving time (apparently daylight “savings” time – plural – is the wrong term). Here’s more from ABC news on ways to adjust to that shift.

And on Saturday morning workers will be cutting keys and blasting river ice in Ottawa to prevent flooding in advance of the spring thaw that’s (presumably) just around the corner. The Ottawa Citizen reports this will be taking place on the Rideau River near the Sussex Street Bridge “… from 10 to 10:30 a.m. and spectators will be able to watch from spots deemed safe by city workers.”

Here are two videos depicting that activity. The first is sort of a tutorial from the City of Ottawa. The second is from the BBC with some very lovely images and a more-dramatic tone: “The centre of Ottawa is safe for another year”. (OK, good to know.)

Enjoy and hello spring!

February was cold all over

As most of you know only too well, February was cold – really cold – in a whole lot of places.

Sistrugi (ripple) patterns in windblown snow on Lake Champlain at sunrise. NCPR Photo of the Day by Andy Sajor

Sistrugi (ripple) patterns in windblown snow on Lake Champlain at sunrise. NCPR Photo of the Day by Andy Sajor

Indeed, all 50 states had temps at or below freezing heading into Feb 27, although Hawaii can only get in that game thanks to its taller mountains, including 13,796′ Mauna Kea. While it’s not the first time all 50 states have seen freezing together, (it was also remarked upon earlier this winter, in Nov 2014) the quirk seems out-of-place by late February.

In Northern New York, this month’s pain showed up in things like frozen water pipes and dairy farmers worrying about frozen manure.

Ontario’s been shivering too. Here’s how February felt in Canada’s largest city, according to the Toronto Star:

The city has extreme cold alerts on 31 days so far this winter, with Monday and Tuesday breaking cold-weather records for February.

“This will set the stage for the first time an entire calendar month has been below freezing in the Kitchener and Toronto Pearson Airport areas since February 1978,” Environment Canada said.

By late February as many as 40 large buildings in Ottawa were dealing with no water due to frozen pipes, as detailed in this Feb 26 article from the Ottawa Citizen:

There has been a “significant” increase in the number of calls to the city about suspected frozen water pipes over the past two weeks, according to the memo sent to the mayor and council yesterday by Dixon Weir, general manager of environmental services.

Temperatures in Ottawa haven’t risen above -3.5 C during February, with the average high at around -11 C without windchill, according to Environment Canada data.

While charting casualties, CBC reports the City of Ottawa is responding to 44 cases of property damage damaged by snow removal equipment in Ottawa thus far, including 14 cars.

City solicitor Rick O’Connor said that equipment has also damaged other property: mailboxes, fences, sprinkler heads, all whose owners may have to be reimbursed.

“The damage likely occurs when these things get covered in snow and cannot be seen by subsequent plows, so many of the incidents have taken place in the last few weeks,” he said in an email.

Frankly, I’m surprised that count isn’t higher. It can be ridiculously hard to know what’s under city snowbanks.

Amazingly, Ottawa is under budget for snow removal costs this winter. So far. But maybe that’s not so amazing as Ottawa’s snowfall hasn’t been excessive, just the cold. (The savings get set aside in a reserve fund for heavy-snow years.)

Quite recently my spouse noticed the plastic surround below his car bumper was cracked, even though he did not recall hitting anything. While we may never know what caused that damage, we did take note of this CBC story: “Modern plastic vehicle parts cracking under winter’s cold temperatures

Ottawa body shop manager Aleks Koundakjian said mirrors, headlights and tail lights are other examples of modern vehicle parts that aren’t built for this record-setting winter with temperatures consistently dropping below -20 C.

“It’s just the nature of the plastic itself,” he said. “There’s really nothing you can do about it.”

As February grinds souls into a state of numb endurance, Scott Feschuk wrote about ‘The nine stages of Canadian cold” for Maclean’s Magazine, subtitled: “Inuit have dozens of words for snow. Canadians as a whole have hundreds of swear words for winter.”

Here is stage number 5:

“Regretting your life decisions” cold. The moment you step outside, the internal monologue begins. “Why do I live here? Why don’t I live somewhere else? I should live somewhere else! I should move! I should move to California! I should move to California today!” This is usually the point at which you realize the plow has left a furrow of snow as tall as a pony in front of your driveway.

But if you can’t beat it, build an ice igloo, eh?  As covered by CBC:

Al Mackenzie and Dan McGuire of Oxford Station began freezing hundreds of ice blocks in January to pile up in the backyard.

“Dan and I were having a few pops one night and we kinda said, we’ve been to many types of parties,” said McGuire.

“We’ve been to four-wheeler parties, we’ve been to pond parties, the list just goes on and on and on. But we’ve never been in an igloo party. So what two better guys to build an igloo and have a party.”

The inaugural party on Feb 21 reportedly featured shot glasses made of ice.

Ottawa Tourism wants you to know a really cold February does make for pretty good ice. The RIdeau Canal set a new record for consecutive days of skating: this Sunday it'll be 51 and counting.

Ottawa Tourism wants you to know a really cold February does make for pretty good ice. The RIdeau Canal set a new record for consecutive days of skating: this Sunday it’ll be 51 and counting.

On a similarly upbeat tone, Ottawa’s Rideau Canal is smashing its old record for most consecutive skate days. This fact got posted on NCPR’s Facebook page and garnered 153 likes.

And it’s exceptionally good ice too. As Bruce Devine, the manager of skateway operations for the National Capital Commission, told the Ottawa Citizen’s Blair Crawford (with video):

“It’s been great skating conditions. Some people have told me it’s been too cold, but it sure did help the ice quality. The ice thickness is excellent. The average thickness is 65 centimetres … and the quality of the ice is just perfect. Almost no air bubbles. It’s clear ice. It was naturally frozen. The consistent cold makes for the nice ice quality. Is it easier? I wouldn’t say that. It’s hard on the crew. Imagine the guy at 2 a.m. watering and flooding the ice. It’s pretty cold for them.”

But when was that happy, crowded, sunny photo taken, hmm? Dollars to doughnuts (or BeaverTails) it wasn’t this past February. No, here’s a photo actually taken quite recently that is more reflective of the current reality.

Image credit: IGer @aktottawa

Hearty Rideau Canal Skaters embracing a hard-to-like month. Image credit: IGer @aktottawa, Ottawa Tourism Facebook

Still, it can be fun. If you dress right and stop thinking of warmer places.

It really is good ice. And who knows? It could last into early or mid-March. (Check current conditions here.)

Here’s one more happy thought: this particular February is over.

This Scheherazade Biz

Queen Scheherazade. Artist: Sophie Anderson, public domain

Queen Scheherazade. Artist: Sophie Anderson, public domain

While I was combing the tubes of the internet this morning for interesting items to intrigue, delight, inform and entertain the NCPR audience for another few hours on a winter Saturday, it occurred to me how much my job was coming to resemble that of Scheherazade in The Thousand and One Nights. You may recall the tale:

The Persian king Shahryar (I believe the name translates as “grumpy”), disappointed by an unfaithful love, had developed a wasteful habit of marrying women, spending one night with them, and chopping their heads off at dawn. Enter the vizier’s daughter Scheherazade, who forestalled her grisly fate each night with a fascinating new tale, which she would interrupt at dawn at a cliff-hanging moment, gaining another day on the planet. She ran out of new stories after 1000 nights, but by that time, she had converted the cruel king into what the ratings folks call “core audience,” and they lived happily ever after.

Scheherazade didn’t write her stories. According to Burton, “She had perused the works of the poets and knew them by heart; she had studied philosophy and the sciences, arts and accomplishments; and she was pleasant and polite, wise and witty, well read and well bred.”

While I can’t claim all those qualities, I do my best to keep the pantry stocked with a liberal (in the liberal arts meaning of the word) selection of tales. Because the job has to be done anew each day. So one day it’s a video of llamas on the lam, the next it’s Fifty Shades of Politics, then on to an Adirondack hermit, or exploring the science of the mind, or deep space.  New art, new ideas, tales of love and mayhem. Mind-boggling images, alluring music.

And it’s not just me. It’s the whole station, the whole network, all the networks and magazines and papers, and blogs and websites and feeds. You gotta feed the beast, because you know what will happen if you run out of fodder.

That’s right–it’s off with your talking head and tomorrow night the “king” will spend the night with cat videos, and the next will be reality TV, then on to the game shows, or teenage vampire thrillers. It would be a grisly fate.

Emerald ash borer: Public Enemy No. 1 for Invasive Species Awareness Week

Seems odd to put National Invasive Species Awareness Week smack in the middle of winter—whose idea was that anyway? This year it’s February 22-28. Wouldn’t it be better to move it to summer when more invasive nasties are around? Of course, summer’s a busy time, and maybe all the good time slots were reserved for Hamster Appreciation Week, National Lawn Edging Week and the like.

An ash tree killed by emerald ash borers. Photo: Penn State, Creative Commons, some rights reserved. Inset: Emerald ash borer. Photo: StopTheBeetle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

An ash tree killed by emerald ash borers. Photo: Penn State, Creative Commons, some rights reserved. Inset: Emerald ash borer. Photo: StopTheBeetle, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

One of the invasive species that deserves our attention is the emerald ash borer (EAB). Having eaten its way through the Great Lakes states and portions of the upper Midwest, the EAB is on a fast track to northern NY State. Since its discovery in 2002, the emerald ash borer has stripped cities and villages of all ash trees. Dorothy wouldn’t recognize one of these “emerald cities.” Treeless neighborhoods in places like Fort Wayne, IN, or Dayton, OH are a far cry from the emerald city of Oz.

The EAB is a very small (3/8” to ½”) bullet-shaped beetle that would be easy to overlook if not for its bright, metallic, emerald-green “paint job” with copper highlights. The beetles themselves do little harm, but their immature stage (larvae) feed on cambium tissue of ash trees, girdling and thus killing them. Aside from the relatively few ash that will be treated with insecticides through the estimated15-year duration of an EAB infestation, NYS will lose its 900 million ash trees.

With EAB closing in from the west, south and north, there’s no way to keep it from reaching northern NY. In fact, given that it’s been found in southern Ontario just across the St. Lawrence River, its arrival will be sooner rather than later. They’re quite capable of flying over the river and into our woods, and you can bet they won’t check in with the Border Patrol.

To prepare for the inevitable appearance of this insect, communities need to find how many ash trees they have in order to calculate and plan for removal costs. An ash tree survey would also identify the ash trees of good health and form to preserve. While a few towns have tree inventories, most don’t, and some of those may welcome volunteer help to survey ash trees.

While many signs of EAB damage manifest during summer, there are a couple of things to look for in winter time. Extensive but shallow woodpecker feeding in late winter, especially on the south and west sides of the trunk, may indicate an EAB infestation. Report all suspected cases of EAB activity to the NYSDEC or your Extension office.

Early planning and community involvement are the keys to weathering the EAB storm with as many surviving ash as possible and without breaking the bank. The first step is to become educated about EAB.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County is offering an Invasive Species First Detector training in Canton February 26 from 12:00-4:30. The training is free and open to the public and will cover emerald ash borer as well as hemlock woolly adelgid and Asian longhorn beetle. To register or get more information call (315) 379-9192 or email ph59@cornell.edu

“The same program will be offered at the Watertown CCE office the following morning, Friday February 27. To register or for more information in  Jefferson County, call (315) 788-8450.”

Paul Hetzler is a horticulture and natural resources educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County