An insect infestation in Vermont is now worse than previously thought.
Vermont agriculture and forestry officials announced Monday that the emerald ash borer, a pest that kills ash trees, has now been detected in three of the state's counties.
Last month, the invasive beetle was found in Orange County, in the town of Orange.
New surveys have recently detected the insect in the Caledonia County town of Groton, and the Washington County communities of Plainfield and Barre, Vermont's agriculture secretary, Anson Tebbetts, announced.
"We're trying to determine the scope of the infestation, and the results of those surveys will assist us in making some decisions, including management recommendations and the implementation of a quarantine," Tebbetts said.
An estimated five percent of Vermont forests are ash trees. Ashes are also popular in urban landscaping, such as in parks and along roads or sidewalks.
"We just can't let our guard down — this is too important," Congressman Peter Welch, a Democrat, said Monday of the need to protect Vermont's trees.
Welch pledged to help blunt the impact of the emerald ash borer, which drills into ash trees and slowly kills them from the inside out.
Tens of millions of trees have been killed in 32 states so far, Welch noted.
"This problem is not something that can be all together eliminated, but it can be mitigated," Welch told reporters Monday.
The congressman is calling on the USDA to send Vermont more resources for its fight, as well as asking for new grants and extra funding for federal wood pest programs serving all affected states.
While the forestry products sector could be impacted long term, so could town budgets.
Vermont's forestry director, Steve Sinclair, pointed to the town of Randolph as an example.
"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 by the emerald ash borer," Sinclair said of an estimate made regarding the possible spread of the insect. "The value and importance of our urban trees is really critical, and when they're impacted by a pest such as emerald ash borer, they become a public hazard when they die and need to be removed."
Sinclair said the state does not want anyone to cut down their ash trees while officials design a response plan, which could include new regulations.
Some solutions are already in place in certain parts of New England.
Last fall, a controlled pesticide injection system was used on the ash trees around the New England Holocaust Memorial in Boston to shield those trees from the ash borer.
"It's going to spread, but it's how fast it spreads that can be helped," said Kevin Brewer, from the Massachusetts company Arborjet, whose treatments were applied to the trees at the memorial.
While field surveys continue around Vermont, state forestry officials are reminding the public to not transport firewood, saying that could only help the pest hitch a ride to new areas to find fresh ash trees to feast on.