Julie Moore: The unwelcome emerald intruder

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Julie Moore: The unwelcome emerald intruder

Thu, 06/14/2018 - 6:19am -- tim

by Julie Moore Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources If you are anything like me, you might not necessarily be able to pick an ash out of a tree line-up. However, after spending some time in the woods earlier this spring with one of our state foresters to learn about the unique traits of ash trees, including a very noticeable diamond pattern in the tree’s bark, I’ve started to notice them everywhere.

That isn’t a coincidence.  Vermont is home to an estimated 160,000,000 ash trees that not only reside in our forests, but also shade our lawns, line our streets and beautify our town greens. Ash trees are known for growing tall and straight and are, quite simply, lovely. Green ash became a popular street tree as a replacement for American Elms, which sadly, were largely lost following the introduction of Dutch Elm disease, a fungal pathogen, in the 1930’s and 40’s. We now understand the value of diversifying our community tree population, and communities across Vermont have been actively planting a greater variety of trees to build resilience.

As you may have heard, Montpelier was recently added to a small but growing list of Vermont communities with confirmed cases of trees afflicted by Emerald Ash Borer (EAB).  In addition, EAB made its long-dreaded appearance in Maine late last month. While distressing, EAB infestations in Vermont and Maine were all but inevitable. A native of Asia, EAB was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Now over thirty states have found EAB infestations – including New York, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire – since that initial detection.

EAB kills ash trees by cutting off the flow of water and sugars. Healthy ash trees typically die within one to four years of showing the first symptoms of infestation. This means that while symptoms may not yet be obvious in many trees, it is likely that EAB is present in much of Central Vermont.

As part of the ongoing response to the discovery of EAB, Vermont has moved to have the entire state included in the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s quarantine which has grown to cover most eastern and central states. We are bounded by EAB quarantines in New York, Massachusetts and Quebec and now the new federal “front line” will be advanced to our eastern border with New Hampshire. I have heard from Vermonters concerned that enacting a statewide quarantine is akin to declaring that we will lose the war when we’ve only just begun to fight. The reality is that this decision is simply a reflection of the “hard truth” of the EAB infestation. Experience gained over the past 15 years has shown that, sadly, local quarantines do not contain EAB. A quarantine is only a line on a map and a crude one at that.

The decision to implement a statewide quarantine was made in the best interest of forest health. The Commissioner of the Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and the Secretary of the Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets elected to focus on forest health and direct limited resources on the infested area. EAB infestations naturally spread one to two miles annually. However, without due care, movement of infested material, especially ash firewood and logs, results in a faster and wider spread. By concentrating our efforts on those areas that pose the greatest risk of spreading EAB and providing proven recommendations that outline low-risk options for the movement and disposal of ash wood, along with outreach on how to handle wood that may be infested, we can be more effective in slowing the spread. Carefully planning and managing the movement of any ash from the infested area will slow the expansion of EAB.

Vermont is truly Forest Strong, and city arborists, foresters, conservation commissions, loggers, utility workers, volunteers and countless others throughout the state are working to keep it that way, in spite of EAB and other stressors. Given the resilience of Vermont’s forests, they will be successful with your help. As Vermonters, we’re all working to prepare for the arrival of EAB in our towns, around our homes and in our woods. It’s important not to move ash wood out of the infested areas and to follow the Slow the Spread recommendations found at https://vtinvasives.org/land/emerald-ash-borer-vermont/slow-spread-of-eab. And, if you spot a local ash tree that you believe may be infested with EAB, please report it on the Vermont Invasives website at: https://vtinvasives.org/get-involved/report-it.

Spread the word – not the bug.  

Julie Moore is the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting and sustaining Vermont’s environment, natural resources, wildlife and forests, and for maintaining Vermont’s beloved state parks. Moore was named to that position by Governor Phil Scott in January 2017. Moore currently resides in Middlesex, Vermont with her husband, Aaron, and their two children. (Link to full bio here)