Ontario Ash Conservation

A National Conservation Strategy – Why?

In 2002, the exotic and destructive emerald ash borer (EAB) was detected in Detroit and Windsor, with >99% of mature ash trees expected to die.

Since 2004, the National Tree Seed Centre has led ex situ conservation efforts to bank representative seed samples of all native ash (Fraxinus spp.) across their range. To date, NTSC has banked over 850 seed collections for future research and reintroduction.

As of 2016, the area of Ontario experiencing severe ash decline and mortality was 242,283 ha. EAB continues to cause extensive mortality across Southern Ontario and recent CFIA quarantine areas have spread to Sault Ste. Marie (2017), Thunder Bay (2017), New Brunswick (2018) and Nova Scotia (2018).

In January 2018, all species of native Fraxinus in eastern North America were assessed as Critically Endangered on a Global IUCN Red List because of EAB mortality. In Canada and Ontario, COSEWIC and COSSARO are expected to review the status of black ash and other ash species to protect under Species at Risk legislation. Protection and recovery will be a major challenge.

We only worry that we've done too little too late.

Critical Provincial Support

Since 2008, the OMNRF Ontario Tree Seed Plant (OTSP), Forest Gene Conservation Association (FGCA) and University of Guelph Arboretum have been contributing to the national seed collection effort. In August 2017, the OTSP closure was announced. The next week, FGCA trained staff at the Invasive Species Centre in Sault Ste. Marie to support seed collection efforts and mitigate effects in Northern Ontario. FGCA continued this work in 2018 despite a poor seed year with its reserve funds and own staff, with shipping support provided by the Canadian Forest Service.

Current NTSC Manager Donnie McPhee collecting white ash in Ontario in 2017. Photo by Melissa Spearing.
Former NTSC Manager Dale Simpson stands in a –20C long-term storage freezer in Fredericton, New Brunswick where ash seeds are deposited and monitored. Photo by Melissa Spearing, 2016.

OMNRF Forest Health Review 2016

Is there still time ahead of the EAB front?

Yes, but not much. In a few years EAB may spread throughout the entire Great Lakes–St. Lawrence forest of Ontario.

Is there hope for ash on the landscape after EAB goes through?

Yes. FGCA's 2018 road trip searching for lingering ash in SW Ontario provided some evidence of persistance. Not all species or individuals are affected equally. Conservation of surviving trees and monitoring regeneration may hold clues to EAB tolerance, breeding and future reintroduction.

FGCA's Strategy 2018–2022:

  • Request the current OMNRF Forest Health Review EAB spatial files for analysis to prioritize communications.
  • Communicate urgency to partners, municipalities and landowners to report and collect seeds ahead of or during EAB attack. There may only be a couple years of opportunity remaining in the Great Lakes–St. Lawrence forest region, especially with black and white ash (3–7 years between good seed crops, separate male and female trees). Refer to the Seed page for 2019 target lists.
  • Allow natural mortality to happen unless the tree is a hazard; pre-emptive cutting did not work to limit the spread.
  • Promote reporting observations on FGCA's iNaturalist project, with geotagged photos. Ahead of EAB, pictures of seed on the tree in the current year and cut tests similar to below are desired. For lingering ash, post images of the trunk diameter and crown health in leaf. A data collection form has also been set up on FGCA's website here.
  • Facilitate collections of high-quality seed in under-sampled areas ahead of EAB. Cut tests should be >70% filled, white, healthy endosperms to make a 6 litre collection per parent tree. Cut tests with >30% filled seed are acceptable in critical areas; collect 8–10 litres of seed. The goal is to collect from a minimum of 2 populations from each ecodistrict (at least 10–15 trees sampled separately per population, spaced 50–100 meters apart).
  • Map reports of lingering ash surviving after EAB attack. The qualify as an EAB Survivor, the tree must be:
    • A naturally occurring individual (not planted, not exotic species).
    • Not have been treated with the TreeAzin insecticide.
    • >20 cm DBH (diameter at breast height, 1.37m above the ground) with a full healthy crown. Smaller DBH trees may be considered in certain ecodistricts. Photos of various stages of crown health are shown here.
    • Our focus is on mapping green, black and pumpkin ash survivors in SW Ontario, but other species' reports are welcome.
  • FGCA and partners will raise funds to facilitate seed collection (coordination, training, travel, materials, staff time, etc). Please contact us if you wish to contribute.
  • Connect with researchers across North America to learn and adapt this strategy.