City to treat street-­side ash trees

The Altoona Shade Tree Commission will treat most of the city’s street-side ash trees to deal with the emerald ash borer, because it’s more cost-efficient than removing them, according to City Planning Director Lee Slusser.

City Council recently awarded an $8,400 contract to Bennetti Tree Service to treat 99 of the trees, most of them on 17th Street.

Lasting two years, at $85 per tree, the treatments could protect the ashes for 22 years before the cost equals the amount needed for removal, Slusser said.

“I’m hoping that the emerald ash borer will be gone in 22 years,” he said. “I’m betting on it.”

In crafting the management plan, the commission relied on advice from the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources, Penn State School of Forestry, Penn State Cooperative Extension and the boroughs of State College and West Chester.

“They all said, ‘it depends on the tree,'” Slusser said.

The commission will remove trees that aren’t worth protecting, like one across from Baker Mansion that’s near the end of its life, Slusser said.

Planted in 1990, the 17th Street trees are worth protecting because of their relative young age, because they’re all monument trees, with plaques beneath them and because they’re on a city gateway, he said.

Commission Chairman Ted Newkirk sounded less confident than Slusser.

“The treatment may or may not work,” he said. “It may [only] work for a couple of years.”

Still, the commission wants to “give them a chance,” he said.

“We’ll see in two years,” Slusser said.

The emerald ash borer is an invasive beetle native to Asia first discovered in the U.S. near Detroit in 2002, having probably arrived in wood packing material, according to Its larvae feed on the inner bark of ash trees, disrupting the transport of water and nutrients. The pest has killed millions of ash trees. It spread to Pennsylvania in 2007, according to the website.

Bennetti will treat the trees with emamectin benzoate.

Besides the 70 trees on 17th Street, Bennetti will treat trees on the 3000 block of Fourth Avenue, the 1800, 1900 and 2000 blocks of 11th Street and the 2600 block of Dove Avenue.

The commission will use funds obtained through the 0.1 mill property tax levy dedicated to it.

The commission’s budget is about $19,000 a year, which is not nearly enough to do what the members want.

“We have to prioritize,” Slusser said.

The ashes are a priority.

“The commission does not cut a tree down unless it’s dead or unless we know it’s dying,” Newkirk said.