State experts urge action on emerald ash borer beetle

Area residents pack into the Twitchell Building in Londonderry to hear about the emerald ash borer beetle. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The primary take-away for individuals attending a community forum about the emerald ash borer beetle is not to move wood during the bug’s “flight season,” which in Vermont is from June 1 to Sept. 30. For communities, the lesson is that the longer one waits to act, the more expensive the final cost will be.

Four experts spoke to about 26 residents of Londonderry, Windham, Andover and Grafton on Jan. 9 at a forum in Londonderry about preparing for the beetles’ invasion.

State entomologist Judy Rosovosky led off with a history of the ash tree infestation. The first emerald ash borer, originally from Asia, was spotted near Detroit in 2002, though it had to have been there since the early 1990s. Since then, it has been discovered in 35 states and three Canadian provinces, where it only feeds on ash trees: white, green and black. There is up to a 99.9 percent mortality rate, especially of white ash, which is prevalent in Vermont.

State entomologist Judy Rosovosky talks about the history of the infestation.

The beetle, identifiable by a red abdomen, was recently discovered on private property in Londonderry. The key to the discovery was finding a live adult beetle on the deck of the house on the property as well as a lot of woodpecker activity.

Vermont is part of a federal quarantine of several states in which it is allowable to move ash wood, but not during flight season.  State rules also apply, further restricting the movement of infested wood. If an adult beetle is found or serpentine streaks under the bark are spotted,  contact the state through this website.
Rosovsky said kiln dried wood can be moved and most places will stamp the wood as being safe.

Rosovsky also said an adult female beetle will lay 40 to 70 eggs in batches. The larvae then chew into the tree and spend a year or two eating the layer where the tree transports minerals to the branches, creating those serpentine streaks. Infestation symptoms include canopy thinning, bark splitting and especially woodpecker flecking where much of the bark is stripped bare. When the emerald ash borer beetle adults finally exit the tree, they leave a tiny “D” shaped hole.

Pieter van Loon, a forester with the Vermont Land Trust, said that not all ash trees within a state, federal or town forest need to be removed right away. Trees left standing can become perches for birds such as hawks. Once a tree falls, the land underneath is good habitat for grubs and other small creatures.

Grafton Select Board member Al Sands listens to the discussion.

Van Loon said a tree may become a problem if it becomes a safety hazard or causes the spread of invasive plants. He added that selective dropping of future hazard trees is the preferred policy. Ash trees prefer moist, well drained soil, so those trees are more likely to survive. Trees on dry soil will be the first to be removed. The best way to manage a woodlot or town forest is to work with a forester, according to van Loon.

Rosovsky said that utility companies are having “heart palapations” over the situation. Once trees have been infested for three to five years, they become brittle and more dangerous to remove.

Ginger Nickerson, Forest Pest Education coordinator for the University of Vermont Extension Service, said utility companies are responsible for any tree that can fall on their lines, even those outside of their 25 foot wide right of way.

Margo Ghia, of the Windham Regional Commission,  said that Green Mountain Power has a specialized EAB crew and that the beetle is spreading faster than the utility had expected. The utility is first concentrating on trees potentially affecting high power lines, before moving to other power lines.

Ghia said an EAB management strategies training for municipalities will be held in Newfane at 4:30 p.m. on Wedensday, Jan. 29. She said road crews, select board members, utilities  and anyone engaged in planning for EAB in Windham County are all invited to attend. More information is on the WRC website.

Ginger Nickerson of UVM’s Extension Service explains the role of utility companies in the situation.

Londonderry Tree Warden Kevin Beattie said Londonderry  intends to make plans, but is waiting to see what other towns are doing. Beattie has taken an inventory of about half the town roads. His chart showed most of the ash trees are on Under the Mountain Road and Reilly Road. He did not include trees that could fall on a utility line and, so far, has figured that about 191 ash trees are in the town right of way. Beattie expects the total to be under 400 because he started on the roads with the most ash trees.

Rosovosky said about 5 percent to 7 percent of trees statewide are ash, though they are often found on roadsides. And Nickerson said that the cut ash trees can still be used by artists and furniture makers and for firewood.

Nickerson said towns should develop a tree ordinance that gives the town tree warden legal authority to remove trees. For more information, click here. For a cost calculator from Purdue University, click here.

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