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Towns plan response as emerald ash borer makes inroads in the Upper Valley

  • A map from the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension service shows the area in New Hampshire infested by the Emerald Ash Borer. (Courtesy University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2021 9:54:04 PM
Modified: 5/13/2021 7:55:49 AM

WINDSOR — Upper Valley communities are continuing to collect data about their ash trees as the emerald ash borer makes inroads throughout the region.

Over a six-week period beginning in mid-March, six volunteers spread out over 32 miles of town-maintained roads and rights of way in Windsor and counted 1,500 ash trees, said Windsor tree warden Michael Metivier. While there has not been a confirmed sighting of the emerald ash borer in town yet, parts of Windsor and Hartland are in a high-risk radius after the beetle — which kills ash trees through its eating and breeding activities — was found across the river in Plainfield last year.

“I think it means that it’s probably already here and people should be monitoring, stakeholders should be monitoring trees for infestation and the town should really be thinking about planning for mitigation and management strategies for dealing with it,” Metivier said. While Vermont has the benefit of knowledge from states that are already dealing with the beetle, they have the challenge of finding the resources to do so. “I think it’s really great that people are trying to be proactive about it even if they’re like me and learning as they go.”

Towns around Vermont are holding educational events during Vermont’s Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week, which takes place from May 15 to 22. Metivier is leading a walk this Saturday, and Vermont state forester Hannah Dallas will discuss the beetle at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday. (People can email mmetivier@windsorvt.org for a link to the event or information about the walk.)

In addition to Plainfield, the emerald ash borer was also confirmed in Bradford, N.H.; Canaan; Enfield; Grafton; Grantham; Newbury, N.H.; Orange, N.H.; Springfield, N.H; and Sunapee in 2020. This year, it was confirmed in Newport, N.H., according to a list published by nhbugs.org, which tracks the insects throughout the state. It has also been found in the town of Orange, Vt., which puts Topsham and Washington, Vt., in a high-risk area.

“Towns like Hanover or Lyme or Orford are not listed yet, but most likely there probably is some emerald ash borer in there, but we don’t see it,” said Steven Roberge, extension forestry specialist with the UNH Cooperative Extension.

Traps are put up in towns that border areas where the beetle has been found. The traps are not capable of stopping the spread of the emerald ash borer, but instead are used to monitor its spread.

“The traps aren’t always 100% effective, so you can put up a trap in a town that has infested ash and you may not get anything, but you try to put it up,” Roberge said. “It’s the best thing we have right now for monitoring.”

Usually by the time the beetle itself is discovered, the trees are nearing death, he added. It takes three to five years for an ash tree to die after becoming infested by emerald ash borers. Infected trees are often discovered through blonding, which is the presence of newly exposed bark on ash trees created by birds who feast on the beetles’ larvae. It is noticeable because the dark bark is pulled away to reveal a lighter wood beneath it.

“When there’s hundreds of larvae in an ash tree, you’re not going to notice it, but the woodpeckers and the nuthatches are,” Roberge said. Once that’s identified, people can pull back the bark and identify the larvae by the serpentine patterns they leave as they eat their way through the trees. “There’s nothing else in ash that makes that pattern so you automatically know it’s EAB that’s making that pattern.”

One of the reasons collecting data on the trees is so important is it because it allows towns to come up with a management strategy — and the funds — for the emerald ash borer once it arrives. There are generally three steps towns can take: They can cut down hazardous ash trees before they become infested and target trees to treat with insecticide, which they would have to commit to for as long as they want to keep the tree alive. Towns can also let infected trees die and fall naturally, if they do not pose a risk to roadways, people, buildings or power lines, among other threats.

“It would be expensive for towns to treat all of the trees on their rights of way, so usually they’re only treating individual trees they want to keep for aesthetic or historical reasons and then removing other trees that would become hazards,” said Ginger Nickerson, forest pest education coordinator at UVM Extension. “I think what a lot of towns are doing now is they’re doing their inventories and they’re developing management plans so they can figure out what they want to do going forward.”

The Norwich Conservation Commission counted ash trees on Union Village, Turnpike and New Boston roads prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are 144 ash trees over 6 inches in diameter per mile of road, said Craig Layne, who chairs the commission. While a good portion of those trees fall under the scope of Green Mountain Power, there are 32 trees per mile that are over a foot in diameter that the town is responsible for.

“The main reason we wanted to look at roadside trees is because of the hazard they might create,” Layne said about the report it submitted to the Selectboard. “We pointed out that it’s much more expensive to remove a dying tree and we mostly just said we want you to have this data, to have an idea of the number of ash trees that might be problems along the roadways so you can make decisions and help budget.”

Layne said the commission has discussed creating a map that includes GPS coordinates of ash trees that are hanging over roadways and collecting data on trees on the rest of the town’s Class II roads.

This spring, the Hartford Tree Board allocated $1,400 to treat seven ash trees at Veterans Park in White River Junction and three larger trees along the roadside at Ratcliffe Park using emamectin benzoate, Jeff Arnold, a member of tree board, wrote in an email. The trees will likely need to be treated again in two years.

“We decided to treat this year because it is advised that once the EAB is found within 30 miles of your ash trees that it is best to start preventative treatment,” Arnold wrote. “We decided only to protect a total of 10 trees and will sacrifice other ash trees that have been planted in the town.”

The public can learn more about the emerald ash borer and the Hartford Tree Board’s plans from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 22 during an event at Veterans Park.

While the town and state efforts largely focus on town roads and rights of way, Roberge stressed that it is important for private landowners to identify and come up with a plan for dealing with ash trees on their properties — even if that plan is to let the trees die.

“It allows you to figure out what you have for trees and what trees you want to save,” he said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

Correction

This story has been updated to correct the email address for Michael Metivier. It is mmetivier@windsorvt.org.




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