Thursday November 15, 2012

By Christmas, state environmental officials plan to enact a quarantine on the distribution of certain wood products to prevent the spread of the tree-destroying ash borer in Massachusetts.

However, the Department of Con servation and Recreation is still debating whether to quarantine just the Berkshires, Western Massachusetts or the entire state, according to DCR spokeswoman S.J. Port.

"We still want to hear from foresters, loggers and others whose livelihood involves wood, what strategy we should employ such as the size of the quarantine and what kind of treatment for the wood," Port said.

The DCR has extended the public comment period on the issue through Nov. 21. Last month, state and federal environmental officials held two public hearings to discuss and debate the merits of a quarantine.

The discovery of a single ash borer in Dalton in late August prompted the DCR to seriously consider limiting the sale and distribution of ash lumber and all hardwood firewood. The metallic green beetle has infested 17 other states, prompting DCR Com missioner Ed Lambert to say at the Pittsfield hearing, "We can’t take no action at all."

Federal officials have vowed to automatically issue a state wide quarantine, should the DCR fail to act.

"We’re not going to let them make the decision for us," Port said.

Several local loggers have said a statewide quarantine would limit the financial impact on wood harvesters, allowing their wood products to freely move about the state. Federal and state environmental officials worry that will only hasten the spread of the ash borer.

The ash borer poses a particular threat to forest in Berkshire County, which contains 64 percent of the 45 million ash trees in the state.

Ash is valuable hardwood and the forest products industry is a $500 million a year business in the state, much of it concentrated in the Berkshires.

A borer, which lays eggs in the tree’s bark, can kill a healthy ash tree in three to five years. When they hatch, the larvae that spring out feed on the wood between the bark and trunk, stopping the flow of nutrients to the rest of the tree. When the beetle hits a tree, there’s almost no saving it, state forestry officials have said.

If a quarantine is enacted, DCR officials have said they would further investigate to determine if the emerald ash borer has spread beyond Kirchner Road in Dalton, where the insect was discovered.

The state is also asking land owners, loggers and others to let them know if they have spotted the destructive insect, which becomes dormant during the late fall and winter months.

While eradicating the emerald ash borer is nearly impossible, federal environmental officials say several measures can be taken to reduce their population.

Nathan Seigert, forest entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said logging infested ash trees, using insecticides in small areas, and relying on the bug’s natural enemies can help keep them at bay.

"Woodpeckers are great for honing in on the late-stage larvae," he said at the Pittsfield hearing.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.