Monday, June 26, 2023

EXPLORING THE WESTERN NY WILDS: Holy spit, there’s a bug in there?!


This time of year when you are out frolicking through pastures and forests with your kids, you’ll often find yourself with wet hands or legs on even the driest days of the summer. A cursory look back at the weeds you walked through will find bubbly froth on their stems.


Most people assume it’s sap.

It’s not.

Not to gross you out, but it’s bug secretions.

If you pushed aside those bubbles, you would find a rather non-descript little insect, a spittlebug nymph, thinking it’s cozy and safe. Spittlebugs secrete the substance to create a shelter that keeps them free of predation (and from drying out from the sun and the heat) while they suck the juices from plant stems and leaves.

Although it’s aptly called a spittlebug on appearance alone – after all, the froth looks like spit – the spittlebug isn’t producing spit. The primary juice really comes from the bug’s anus. The runny solution then flows all over the bug’s body (spittlebugs eat upside down) and mixes with other liquids that come out of pits on the bug’s abdomen. Those substances mix with air, creating the long-lasting bubbles.

Spittlebugs can prove to be a real pest to alfalfa and clover, common crops and deer attractants, respectively, across Western New York. Sometimes, spittlebugs can infest a whole field and make for bruised stems and unhealthy plants, more so with first-year alfalfa crops. The young bugs can also create other problems when their spittle wets down plants and jams older farm machinery (which shows you just how many can inhabit one field).

Spittlebugs are also a foe to gardeners as they consume a wide variety of ornamental plants. In a wild setting, I’ve found that they have an affinity for goldenrod and smartweed.

They are tough to control because one would have to physically collect through sweeping (which is usually the method suggested by agricultural agencies), rather than poison, the insects when they are crazy, bouncing adults in the late-summer. Adult spittlebugs are commonly called froghoppers. The 1/8” to ½” critters get that name because they hop from plant to plant like miniature frogs (unlike their young, they do not create the frothy cover nor do they damage crops).

Adding to their difficulty to control, they have been granted other special powers by Mother Nature: Their eggs are cold-resistant and remain entirely healthy all winter long.

Spittlebugs are really bothersome…and gross. When next you go walking outdoors please don’t ruin your hike and think about what that wet stuff is on your hands and legs. Don’t let a little bit of bug butt juice ruin your day.

Just be sure to wash yourself off when you are done hiking.



From the 27 June 2023 Wellsville Sun

Be on the lookout for a killer of oak trees


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 New York’s 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 known to be dangerously close to us.  


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.


And, then, there was recent news that hits awfully close to home: It was announced a couple weeks ago that oak wilt was found in three trees in Niagara Falls, Ontario this past May.


The latest incident should serve as a wake-up call to Niagara County residents. Beetles can easily fly the spores across the river to the majestic oaks that dot the shoreline of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario.


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 Department of Environmental Conservation asks that the public report any occurrences where an oak tree dies over a short period of time, especially if it occurs in the summer. 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


The DEC has declared all-out war on this scourge and it’s not an easy one. 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 DEC takes down trees in question, deploys root disruption, and initiates 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 also conducts 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.

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 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.



From the 27 June 2023 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun


Friday, June 16, 2023

“Good bye” and “thank you” to the Lockport Hospital


During the first weekend of May in 1999 I had severe abdominal pain and chalked it up to food poisoning and gluttony from eating a whole pizza. I fought through it best I could – I moved into my home and played some softball that weekend, saying I wouldn’t let pain and bad food ruin my weekend.


Over the course of those two days it got much worse and, without my knowing, my appendix exploded. Only after the poisons made their way through my body did I go to the ER. By then, it had caused potentially-fatal peritonitis. I needed emergency surgery and spent a week in hospital followed by weeks of recovery.


Now, every morning when I look in the mirror and see the large scar that travels vertically across my stomach I count my blessings. I was likely hours away from kicking the bucket but I was fortunate that Lockport Memorial Hospital and its people were there to work their magic. The wonderful doctors, nurses, and aides made sure my stay was helpful, hopeful, and comfortable.


I’m forever indebted to those good people and the Hospital for saving my life.


I am also thankful to them for saving my son Warren’s life.


He was born there, five weeks ahead of schedule. But, premies being premies, and boy ones being especially troublesome, it wasn’t an easy birth. He struggled to breathe, badly. What was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life was stressful beyond belief as I watched the medical team urgently work on Warren as his chest heaved to get air. Despite the high level of stress for me and those attending to him, they skillfully and lovingly kept him going until an ambulance whisked him away to Buffalo’s Women’s and Children’s Hospital.


Warren is six years old now, in perfect health, and an incredibly bright and cheery boy. I think the kid is going to go on to do big things, a domino effect made possible by those incredible people at Lockport.


Events like these will be no more in the Lock City. It’s incredibly sad that the enterprise which created memories and provided first and second chances at life for literally hundreds of thousands of patients has become but a memory itself with the Saturday closing of Eastern Niagara Hospital after 115 years of serving the Niagara Frontier.


But, as much as I dislike that what it once was is being replaced by triage and general healthcare rather than the wide range of critical services that we all knew, I know it’s a necessary move that reflects the reality of the world we live in.


If you’ve read this column for any length of time you know I fret quite often about the ongoing decline of Upstate New York’s economy, population, and demographics. Not only is it something that keeps me up at night running a factory, it also dominates my thoughts while serving boy scouts and college students. At all of those organizations, just like the hospital, we’ve instituted major changes to meet the changing demographics and we often ponder long-term options if the decline of the region continues or happens at a rate even greater than what it has.


That’s the same mess that ENH has faced. Fewer area residents equal fewer patients which equals fewer revenues. On top of that, there’s the “use it or lose it” syndrome: In the lead-up to the closing of the maternity ward a few years ago, 65% of area women from a population of potential child bearers that was 24% lower than it was 20 years earlier chose facilities other than Lockport to deliver.


So, I get it.


But, that doesn’t make the loss of the hospital any easier.


It hurts.


And, I doubt any of this talk of socioeconomics is comforting to those who need or have used ENH’s services or those who worked their tails off – and shed a lot of tears, happy and sad  -- to provide them.


I will forever remember and cherish that building and the wonderful people who roamed the halls – true angels on Earth. The hospital’s teams helped me and my family navigate times that were happy and scary. Eastern Niagara Hospital, Lockport Memorial, whatever you want to call it, saved my life. It saved Warren’s life. It likely saved the life of someone close to you.


I say “good bye” to a community institution that served generations and “thank you” to the men and women who changed lives and saved lives.


We’ll always love you as much as you loved us.




From the 20 June 2023 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun