As many are aware, Emerald Ash Borer, (EAB) an invasive species, has been devastating ash tree populations since its arrival in Ontario early in the 2000s. Because of this threat, Black Ash trees are now set to be listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario (SARO) list as “endangered.” With this designation, the Endangered Species Act requires protection both of the trees and their habitat, as well as prohibitions on buying and selling the trees, in an effort to protect the species.
Although these trees are still found in many places in the province, once the Ash Borer reaches an area, devastation is significant, with anywhere from 5% to none of the trees expected to survive. Efforts will be needed to protect these trees and ensure their ongoing future survival in Ontario. Cooperation from farmer landowners to help protect and promote the species and protect the health of woodlots overall will be vital.
In the face of the devastation caused by this insect, simply protecting habitat and trees, as required under Endangered Species Act rules, will not be enough. Leaving healthy stands of trees untouched will just provide feed for the Ash Borer and leave affected woodlots weakened or lost altogether.
Ontario hosts more than 25% of the global range for Black Ash. Many areas of the province are still unaffected by the borer, but, as the “Ontario Species at Risk Evaluation Report for Black Ash” points out, future infestation is possible in most of the province over the next 100 years, or the next two generations for Black Ash trees.
Because of the environmental and economic challenges this issue is posing, government is proposing to delay protections under the ESA for two years.
In our response, the CFFO emphasized the importance of using this delay as an opportunity to promote voluntary stewardship on farms. This should include information for landowners on risks to Black Ash and effective solutions to protect the species. We asked that funding be put in place for landowners to protect individual trees from borer attack, to get assessments on their property for resistant trees and to consult with forestry professionals on woodlot management plans, including the ability to remove trees as necessary.
We also requested that the nursery trade in Black Ash trees should be allowed to continue. We recommended support for research and breeding based on resistant genetics. Hopefully, newly planted resistant trees can replace those lost to the Borer.
Many farmers will be interested in playing their part to help protect the future of these trees in Ontario. Farmers also want to be able to maintain the integrity of their woodlots through good management practices, including the ability to cut down and replace trees as necessary. The CFFO wants to see government support for voluntary farmer stewardship of Black Ash. Society should support farmers in their stewardship efforts on behalf of all Ontarians.