Friday, May 28, 2021

Be aware of oak wilt


It seems like Western New York’s forests are under constant attack, in wars that they can’t win.

In the early 1900s, chestnut trees were all but exterminated from our woodlands by chestnut blight. Dutch elm disease wiped out our impressive stands of elms from the 1950s through the 1980s. Today, millions of ash trees are being decimated by the emerald ash borer. And, mature beech trees will be totally eliminated from our forests in the coming years thanks to beech bark disease.


As our forests reel from those diseases and pests, and are forever changed, more pestilence is piled upon them. The newest of those threats being posed to our woodlands is oak wilt.


It is a serious tree disease that kills thousands of oaks each year in the midwest. It is caused by a fungus -- Ceratocystis fagacearum -- which grows in the water-conducting xylem of host trees, causing the vessels to produce gummy plugs that prevent water transport. As water movement within the tree is slowed, the tree starves to death. The leaves wilt and drop off, and eventually the tree dies.

Until only recently, oak wilt was almost unheard of in New York. There was a small outbreak in Glenville in Schenectady County in 2008 that was contained and then found to have recurred in 2013, which was also contained.


Six times since, though, the wilt reared its ugly head in the Empire State.  


Realize, those are the known occurrences. Others might slip under the radar.


That’s concerning when you consider that the fungus is dangerously close. In 2016, a homeowner in Canandaigua noticed that an oak tree on their property began dying with no identifiable cause. Samples from the tree were sent to the Cornell Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic, where they tested positive for the fungus that causes the disease. In 2019, a number of infected trees were discovered not far from there in the towns of Bristol and South Bristol.


There is no known treatment to contain and kill the oak wilt fungus other than to remove infected trees, as well as any surrounding host oak trees. The Department of Environmental Conservation took down the trees in question, deployed root disruption, and initiated an emergency order establishing a protective zone prohibiting the movement of oak material out of the immediate area to prevent the fungus from spreading. The DEC is also conducting regular aerial and ground surveys to identify additional trees that may be infected.

It seems like a lot of concern and work, but it’s absolutely necessary to save the forests from the spread of oak wilt. All oaks are susceptible to it, but red oaks die much faster than white oaks. Red oaks can take anywhere from a few weeks to six months to die and they spread the disease quickly. White oaks can take years to die.

Property owners and outdoors enthusiasts are the first line of defense and need to stay aware of any issues impacting oaks in their yards or in the wilds. Symptoms of the disease include browning of leaves starting at the outer edge and progressing inward toward the mid-vein of the leaf; branch dieback that may be visible starting at the top of the canopy and progressing downward; leaves suddenly wilting (hence the name); leaf loss during spring and summer; and fungal spore mats raising and splitting the bark.

The DEC asks that the public report any occurrences where an oak tree dies over a short period of time, especially if it occurs between July and August. You can use the toll-free Forest Health Information Line toll-free at 1.866.640.0652 or send an email with photos and site specifics to

It is very important that we regularly inspect trees for the disease and engage the state if we see something amiss. Not only would oak wilt eliminate some of the most brilliant trees from our fall landscapes, but if oak trees are gone from our forests, especially in the southern tier, it will remove an important food that provides sustenance for a variety of animals from deer to bear to turkeys to squirrels. Years ago, these creatures lost chestnuts. Now, they’re losing beechnuts. If they were to lose acorns, too, there would be a serious, wide-ranging environmental crisis.


So, if you see something, say something.



31 May 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Public comment is a valuable tool


One of the most important tools afforded citizens when it comes to ironing out public policy is that of public comment.


Most folks tend to look at that rather dismissively, fully believing that their opinion, in the whole scheme of things, means nothing. 


Don’t ever think that way.


Public comment works. I’ve seen it firsthand quite a few times.  


The best example happened back in 2011 when this column looked at a proposal by the Obama Administration which would have excluded all minors (except the children of the farm’s owners) from most farm work and all animal husbandry. That would have killed the future of agriculture in this country and destroyed the 4-H and FFA.


Thanks to the wonders of in the internet, the column went viral almost overnight and farmers, high school students, ag colleges, talk radio hosts, and politicians heartily voiced their opinions in the closing days of the public comment period. After that column made its rounds, public input increased a whopping tenfold to the US Department of Labor in a matter of just a few days. We beat back the regulations and it was a huge win for farming….all because people made their voices heard. 


It’s wonderful that our government gives us the chance to do that -- most don’t. Luckily we had founding fathers like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who were adamant about citizen-driven discussions, something that caught on in New England town halls and similar movements that followed and continue to this day.  


The process in a nutshell: When an executive branch or a legislative body, be it at the federal, federal or local level, is looking at creating policy or has proposed a change in policy it opens up a public comment period during which a board, special committee or the agency charged with creating or enforcing the new policies accepts either oral opinions (at special meetings) or written comment (via email, websites, or postal mail) regarding the proposals. After the period closes, that group goes back to the drawing board and either alters or, as was the case with the farm rules, scraps it entirely.


When delivering your comment there are five basic rules you should follow.


Be educated. Take the time to download the new rules and regulations and read through them. Also, read up on why they were created. Don’t take the word of radio/TV talking heads, your favorite elected official or columnists like me. Sure, we can lead you to an awareness or an understanding of government action, but you need to take ownership of your knowledge of the issues.


Be educational. Most policymakers have not been in the line of work, science, or art that they might be looking to change. But maybe you have. Explain how the new rules will affect any number of things -- your workplace, your family, your community, the environment and the economy. Your real world perspective, from being in the trenches, is what they want to hear. Only you, being in the shadow of the dominos, can give the most realistic story of what could happen.  


Be professional. Although a proposed regulation might get your goat, maintain a poker face. Anger and resentment never win over people you are trying to influence. You have to be able to sell policymakers on your ideas – so be a good salesman…be respectful and positive, never demeaning.


Be to the point. Some public comment periods can be overwhelming to governmental agencies. With the aforementioned farm rules, the US DOL received 13,000 written comments. That’s 13,000 letters and emails they have to sift through and read individually. Don’t put them to sleep. Keep it short, just a few paragraphs or nothing longer than a newspaper column. 


Be yourself. Far too often, organizations you belong to will tell you to send a letter that they’ve written to an elected official or a department. Never, ever do that. If the individuals overseeing the task see a few hundred of the same letter it ends up making said letter meaningless, even when received in volume. It’s like activist spam. They want fresh ideas, fresh voices, and fresh perspectives. They want you.  


Contributing your comment seems like it could be a daunting task, but it’s not. The daunting task comes when you have to live with a series of laws you didn’t want in the first place. So, do everything you can to stop them from ever happening. We’re granted a special power as a part of this republic. Use it.


From the 24 May 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News

Monday, May 10, 2021

Safety committees are coming to your workplace


Navigating the pandemic has been relatively easy for businesses like manufacturers. Operating in industries defined by machinery, electricity, hydraulics, and other occupational hazards, safety protocols were old hat to us so it didn’t take much to adapt and adopt policies to address Covid or government’s response to it.   


That wasn’t the case for other employers such as offices, retailers, and restaurants. In work environments with far fewer risks, intense safety standards were never the norm. When those workplaces reopened they needed guidance from other businesses that reopened successfully (or never closed) and state government to do what was necessary to mitigate coronavirus exposure.


Picking up new behaviors, skills, and procedures didn’t end in 2020. Even though we seem to now know plenty about a virus that was still relatively unknown or misunderstood just 13 months ago, the government response to it continues to evolve and, in turn, so does the private sector response.


Take safety committees for example.


Such teams have long existed at my fellow producers and employers of larger size.


But, most small businesses, especially those that originally found difficulty navigating reopening, have never had a safety committee. It’s not as if fast food establishments, call centers, hotels, and stores really saw the need or value given that their exposures to risk were low.


That’s going to change. The State now mandates safety committees for all employers with 10 or more employees.


The new law is an outcome of the recently passed HERO Act which codified the Cuomo Administration’s Covid protocols while also enacting these committees and granting legal outlet for employees who feel threatened by employer responses to airborne diseases.


Governor Cuomo signed the Act into law on May 5th. The first part, pertaining to the creation of workplace-specific control plans, goes into effect June 4th. The safety committee portion takes effect on November 1st.


Under the law, these committees must be comprised of management and general labor, and empowered with the abilities to raise health and safety concerns, hazards, complaints, and violations to the employer to which the employer must respond; review and provide feedback for any policy put in place in the workplace as required by the HERO Act and any provision of workers’ compensation law; review the adoption of any policy in the workplace in response to any health or safety law or executive order; participate in any site visit by any governmental entity responsible for enforcing safety and health standards; review any report filed by the employer related to the health and safety; and schedule a meeting during work hours at least once a quarter.


It might seem like a massive laundry list to employers that have never hosted a safety committee. As someone who comes from the world of manufacturing, please allow me to share a handful of tips on navigating this and getting the most impact out of it – sure, you want to address the law but you also want to get the most bang for your buck and protect your team.


Make the committee multi-functional. How many should make up your committee? That’s a tough call. It depends on the environment. At my place, 1-in-every-5 participate. Your crew should be made up of people from every aspect of operations and every shift so all nuances of the operations are addressed. If you run a grocery store, for example, you should have a cashier, stocker, butcher, baker, and customer service representative involved.


Have everyone inspect the workplace. Every committeeperson should be granted time during the workday in the days prior to the meeting to fully inspect and observe not only their workspace, but also the departments of others. Their findings should help drive conversation.


Keep the lines of communications open. It’s defeating to workplace safety if suggestions, observations, and concerns are kept until the next committee meeting. If you meet quarterly, that means you could go months before a legitimate issue is addressed. Encourage attendees (and all workers) to submit issues as they become aware.


Maintain records. Committee minutes should be maintained. An action plan noting findings and parties assigned to resolution should be issued and followed-up with after every meeting.


Invite outsiders to your meetings. Outside eyes are always good. They see things that you and your committee might miss being part of your normal day-to-day. So, invite your comp carrier’s safety guru in to tour and provide training and insight to your group. Also, take advantage of the NYS Department of Labor’s on-site consultation program to do the same.


While the HERO Act’s safety committee mandate may seem like a frustration to the uninitiated, employers not used to the practice will ultimately find value in the meetings and empowerment, as other employers have through the years. This is one of those circumstances when, done properly, the effected small businesses can turn lemons into lemonade.        



From the 10 May 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News