PITTSFIELD -- The state is enacting a quarantine on Berkshire County wood in a bid to limit the spread of the tree-destroying emerald ash borer in Massachusetts.

The Department of Conservation and Recreation's quarantine takes effect March 1. After that date, all ash tree products and hardwood firewood cannot be transported elsewhere in the state unless it's been specially treated.

The metallic-green beetle's presence in Massachusetts was discovered last August when an ash borer turned up in a trap along Kirchner Road in Dalton. Since mid-October, five more have been found within a 1.5-mile radius of the area, according to DCR officials. The ash borer poses a particular threat to forests in Berkshire County, which contains 64 percent of the 45 million ash trees in the state. The invasive beetles can kill a tree in a matter of a few years.

"We want to prevent the spread of the ash borer to the rest of the state, but we haven't given up on Berkshire County," Lambert said. "It's still an early infestation and limited to Dalton -- that's the good news."

The quarantine prevents local saw mills from shipping untreated ash lumber outside the county. It bans businesses and people from transporting all locally harvested hardwood firewood beyond Berkshire County's borders. State and federal foresters say the transport of firewood is the No. 1 way the ash borer is spread.

"Burn wood where it's cut. Keep it local," Lambert said.

The DCR is relying on the public to adhere to the quarantine. Willfully breaking the DCR's quarantine could result in fines of up to $25,000.

Native to Asia, ash borers likely hitchhiked on an international shipment from China when they showed up in Michigan in 2002. They have since infested 17 other states, including Massachusetts and New York.

Several local loggers had asked for a statewide quarantine to limit the financial impact on wood harvesters by allowing their wood products to freely move about 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.

Federal and state environmental officials say a statewide quarantine will only hasten the spread of the ash borer.

DCR officials said New York has extended its quarantine to counties bordering the Berkshires, which is actually good news for local loggers and sawmill owners, according to Lambert.

"That expansion will help ease the burden for wood producers who can ship their products west," he said. DCR officials noted wood products can move freely within a quarantined area.

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.

State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, hopes the quarantine will spare the ash tree from the same fate as the American elm, which has been devastated by Dutch elm disease.

"I applaud the commissioner and DCR staff for being proactive," Pignatelli said. "It will pay dividends for the county."

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, has said logging infested ash trees, using insecticides in small areas, and relying on the bug's natural enemies can help keep them at bay.

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

Berkshire County wood quarantine

Starting March 1, the Department of Conservation and Recreation quarantine on Berkshire County wood goes into effect. It's designed to limit the spread of the emerald ash borer to the rest of Massachusetts.

n The quarantine includes all hardwood firewood less than four feet long, all ash nursery stock and all untreated ash lumber.

n Proper wood treatments include dry kiln, sterilization, fumigation, heat and removal of bark and a half-inch of the wood.

n Willful disregard of the quarantine could result in fines up to $25,000 from DCR, but the agency is focusing on outreach and education to garner compliance.

n For more information, go to www.mass.gov/dcr