If you have a woodlot chock full of older trees, you'll find this familiar tree to be one of the four or five most prolific species. It's unmistakable with its smooth grey bark, spike-covered nuts in the Fall (a favorite of squirrels, deer, and turkeys), and dead, dry leaves that stay on the branches throughout the winter. Appreciate them while you can....they'll be gone in a few years, leaving short, shrubby remnants.
Beech Bark Disease has finally made its way to Western New York en masse, killing these important trees in huge numbers. This European disease was first reported in the US in 1920. I am surprised it took this long to affect WNY.
This disease is a two-step ailment: First, a scale insect attacks the tree, leaving wounds. Secondly, two types of fungi enter the wounds, creating many, many cankers which basically rupture the bark and destroy the tree.
How do you stop it? You can't. Insecticides and fungicides are impractical in forest settings. The best you can do is remove the trees (turn 'em into firewood) before it spreads. Mother nature can help, too, by unleashing ladybugs on the insects (ladybugs LOVE scale).
Below are pictures showing progression of Beech Bark Disease on some Gasport beeches. The top picture shows a healthy beech. The middle one shows cankers taking over a tree. And the bottom pic shows obliterated bark from a soon to be dead tree.