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Emerald Ash Borer Found in Two More Vermont Counties

  • An emerald ash borer. (Photo courtesy Debbie Miller - USDA Forest Service/Bugwood.org)

  • Evidence of emerald ash borer infestation. (Photo courtesy Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets)



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2018

Randolph — Less than a month after state officials first documented a devastating invasive beetle in Orange County, an intensive search has shown that emerald ash borer is present in two more Vermont counties.

“If we can contain it — the emerald ash borer — early, the problem will not become serious long term. This is one of those issues where if you don’t, it can get away from you and create real problems for our industry,” said Bill Sayre, co-owner of Bristol-based A. Johnson Co. LLC, a timber management and sustainable forestry company.

Sayre spoke during a news conference on Monday in Randolph with U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., and other state and federal forestry officials.

The insect, which has been chewing its way through ash trees in at least 32 states, is now present in Groton in Caledonia County, and Barre and Plainfield, Vt., in Washington County, as well as in Orange in Orange County, according to Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Anson Tebbetts.

The full extent of the infestation is not yet known, but Tebbetts said a boots-on-the-ground survey carried out with support from the U.S. Forest Service and the USDA will likely be complete in about a week, thereby setting the stage for quarantines and other protective measures.

As it threatens the state’s 34 million ash trees, emerald ash borer could ruin timber for landowners and also cost local municipalities millions, said Steven Sinclair, director of forests for the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

“There’s no question the impact on private forests and landowners is (a) serious (detriment) to an economic investment they have in their forestland, but we also need to be worried and consider the impact on our urban environment as well,” Sinclair said.

He said the ash borer can transform the public good of trees — warmth, shading, stormwater services and adding to a community’s beauty — into a public hazard, in the form of a dead tree that needs to be removed before it falls over.

In a response plan developed by Randolph officials, Sinclair said the town “calculated that it would cost $300,000 to remove all the ash trees in the public right of way within the town of Randolph, were they to be infested.”

Randolph is one of 30 Vermont communities that has developed response plans to the beetle, which does most of its damage while in larval form. That’s when it eats wood beneath the bark of an ash tree, eventually girdling it by choking off its supply of nutrients.

The mortality rate for ash trees, which make up 5 percent of Vermont’s forested landscape, is in excess of 99 percent once the borer hits them, officials said.

The emerald ash borer, which hails from Asia and was first discovered on American soil in 2002, was found in Vermont on Feb. 19 on private land in the northern part of the town of Orange, near the juncture of Orange, Caledonia and Washington counties.

Around the country, the batting record against the invasive has been dismal so far — efforts at pesticide treatments, biological controls, quarantines and tree removals have failed to eradicate it in any state over the last 16 years

Of the three most threatening invasive insect species, a trio that includes hemlock wooly adelgid, and maple-chewing asian longhorn beetles, Sinclair said the emerald ash borer “is probably the worst. But we haven’t given up hope.”

In early May, the larvae transform into adults, small green beetles that fly to other nearby trees and continue the cycle of devastation. If humans don’t aid the borer’s travels by carting infested firewood or harvested timber into non-infested areas, the bug can spread about one or two miles per year.

From a USDA lab in Berlin, Vt., Sinclair said two or three crews are setting out each day and driving slowly down forested roads in area towns, looking for the distinctive bark blonding, or heavy woodpecker activity, that can indicate the presence of emerald ash borer.

Sinclair said the crews have so far surveyed 10 towns while developing the list of infested communities. Every infested town expands the search into surrounding towns; so far, six towns near Orange have been “cleared,” though officials stressed that they can’t fully rule out the possibility of infestations in those areas as well.

Those six towns were not explicitly identified.

“Once we form that outer boundary, then we’ll start looking within a little bit more, within those towns and try to get a clearer picture of where in those towns,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair urged forested landowners to take advantage of the time they have to make wise decisions about harvesting their ash.

“We found it in Orange and we have landowners in Franklin thinking they need to go out and harvest their ash immediately,” said Sinclair, which he called “really not thoughtful management” because the threat there may not be imminent.

Welch said that he plans to advocate for increased funding levels for the USDA’s Tree and Wood Pests program. Federal funding for that program recently increased from $54 million to $56 million, and Welch said he will seek another increase, to $60 million.

He said he is joining Vermont’s other federal lawmakers in seeking more resources from the USDA, and to support a new grant program that would boost research on protection of native species from invasive threats.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.