Environmental Conservation Board (ECB)
The Purpose of the Environmental Conservation Board
By providing an environmental perspective on site plans and variance requests for properties with significant natural resources, as well as local laws, consultant studies, comprehensive plans, stewardship of natural areas, and other issues, the Environmental Conservation Board contributes to local land use decision-making, conservation, and quality of life for residents in the community.
Natural Resource Protection News
With the arrival of spring, it’s time again to be on the lookout for invasive species. The Spotted Lantern Fly (SLF) has not been reported in Ontario county although did make an appearance in Ithaca and we can anticipate a need for ongoing vigilance in monitoring given its potential for serious damage to our orchards and vineyards. A favorite host for SLF is the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima). Its characteristics makes it easy to identify: https://extension.psu.edu/tree-of-heaven Tree of Heaven is found throughout our town (and everywhere else). Property owners would be wise to remove it, but it’s a more involved process than just cutting down the vegetation. TOH has vigorous root suckering resulting in sprouting about the stump you leave – and more trees than you started out with! Proper management is covered in this Penn State video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AKLW2TXS1jg
The Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) has a new name -- Spongy Moth. The wet weather we experienced last summer encouraged the development of certain fungus and viruses which are natural enemies of the Spongy Moth caterpillars. There appears to be considerably fewer egg masses deposited by the caterpillars and we can hope for less damage to our trees than previously experienced. Spongy moth infestations are cyclical and we can anticipate a future visit, but hopefully not for some time.
Oak Wilt, caused by yet another invasive species, this time in the form of a fungus (Bretziella fagacearum), has affected oak trees in our town. It is similar in its action to Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut blight which devastated our forests previously. It is thought that the fungus is transmitted by beetles and other insects attracted to sap coming out of infected trees. It is therefore recommended that any pruning of oak trees occur during the winter months
This Month's ECB Article
Making Friends with our Tiniest Neighbors
By Kimberly Burkard
The news is full of insects that are not our friends—ticks, spotted lantern fly, emerald ash borer, spongy moth, and more. But insects are one of the key life forms of our world. Whether it is insects as food, food from the plants they have pollinated, or the services they render like eating carrion or dung, the rest of the life on this planet, ourselves included, are dependent upon them. There are many things we can do to live more amicably with our smaller brethren.
REDUCE/ELIMINATE PESTICIDE USE: Especially avoid spraying for mosquitos. The chemicals used are indiscriminate and will kill bees, butterflies, lightning bugs, dragonflies, ladybugs, and moths plus it can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Hummingbirds are voracious consumers of insects and can be vulnerable to insecticides. Plus indiscriminate elimination of all insects removes food sources for birds. Ninety-six percent of all terrestrial bird species rear their young on insects plus insects are a primary food source for many adult birds too. No bugs = no birds. Read more on what baby birds need.
Remove all stagnant or standing water sources to reduce mosquito breeding grounds. This includes making sure your home’s gutters are draining properly. Put a bubbler in your birdbath, which birds will enjoy or change the water daily. If you have still water like ponds or garden pools, there are mosquito dunks that will kill mosquito larvae but not harm other wildlife. Read more on home mosquito management.
Beyond mosquitos, you can also learn to think about differently about a few chewed leaves in your gardens and landscape too. If your plants are being nibbled (by our native species), then they are part of the ecosystem and those plants are supporting said butterflies, birds, and more. Be part of the ecosystem!
LEAVE NATURAL SPACES: Allow some room for wildness on your property. Many species will appreciate or require this such as the fan-favorite, fireflies, who are currently putting on their fabulous illuminated nighttime courtship displays. Low-hanging trees, forest litter, and long grasses all create welcoming environments for fireflies. Ponds and other moisture are crucial to firefly populations, and you can further encourage their numbers by reducing the amount of light in your yard at night and by cutting back on chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Lights with motion sensors will give you the light you seek while being more firefly and dark-sky conscious. Of note, leaving your autumn leaves and garden cleanup until spring (when there are temps of 50+ degrees) can make a huge difference to pollinators, fireflies, and other small creatures. Read more about autumn leaves and firefly conservation.
ADD NATIVE PLANTS: This is the most obvious suggestion, but a necessary reminder. And while adding any natives can help, the magic number is 70% native. A diverse population of native plant species in your yard will help to make it a bird and butterfly haven. The 70% native allows you plenty of room for favorites like ornamental roses, vegetables, and more. And big FYI, “pest-free” is often a code phrase for nonnative plants! Read more about the magic native plant number and check if a plant is native in NYS.
UNDERSTAND YOUR NEIGHBORS: Finally, there are many other conditions that may help your home to be a more richly, biodiverse space. For example, as you have heard, Monarch Butterflies do indeed need native milkweed on which to lay their eggs for the next generation. But they also need flowering native species as nectar sources—food—for the adult butterflies. A Monarch paradise would have a combination of both such plants plus moisture. If you need assistance in knowing how to better support our invertebrate partners (yes, bugs!), visit the Xerces Society website. They share a wide range of resources for just that.
Resources for Board Members
NRI Checklist Appendices (2020 Update)
Members of the Environmental Conservation Board
Kimberly Burkard, Chairperson and