A new discovery in Vermont was one no one wanted to make: an invasive species that threatens to choke out some of the state’s trees.
The emerald ash borer has slowly been creeping across much of the country, and now, it has Vermont scientists and policy-makers scrambling to learn more in an attempt to contain its spread.
“It’s sobering,” said Emilie Inoue, the state pest survey coordinator for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture.
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Inoue said the emerald ash borer, which is smaller than a dime, was just discovered in Vermont for the first time, in the town of Orange. She said a private forestry consultant had strong suspicions about a tree, so contacted state officials who confirmed the insect’s presence.
The beetle drills into ash trees, where its larvae feast on key tissue, choking out the tree.
Before showing up here, the beetle was already in more than 30 states including next door in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York.
“I would say it’s very concerning, but inevitable,” Inoue said. “Anybody that loves trees understands that because this pest is going to kill the majority of ash trees in North America, it’s a big deal.”
It’s a big deal, she added, because ash trees are important to ecosystems, including in wetlands. They’re also popular to plant in backyards and parks.
They also have significant commercial applications, famously as baseball bats.
“It’s an underrated hardwood,” said Marty Boyle, who sells a lot of ash for flooring, cabinets, and other uses around the home at his Colchester business, Hayley Wood Products.
Boyle said he is watching for potential long-term impacts from the ash borer, including, possibly, to wood prices or added regulations such as new layers of inspections.
“It’s obviously going to be detrimental to a lot of trees,” Boyle said, noting that as of right now, he has not personally experienced any price increases to ash wood that he can pinpoint to the beetle.
Commissioner Mike Snyder of the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation said five percent of Vermont’s forests are ash. He said teams will be working over the next several weeks to determine the extent of the infestation, to help inform state and local responses.
“We’ve benefited from being one of the last [states to detect the beetle], because we’ve learned how other states have responded—what’s worked, what hasn’t worked,” Snyder said. “If you have ash trees and you think they’re infested, we want to hear about it.”
For more information on the emerald ash borer and other invasive species, or to report a concern about possible infestation, visit this website.
While study into the potential reach of the emerald ash borer into Vermont continues, Snyder wants anyone going camping to never transport firewood, since the insect could be hitching a ride, looking for more trees to devour.