The tree-destroying emerald ash borer has spread faster than expected within Berkshire County and now poses a threat to Eastern Massachusetts, state environmental officials have said.

Nearly 18 months after the Department of Conservation and Recreation first detected the invasive insect in Dalton, the metallic green beetle has been discovered in several neighboring communities, according to Ken Gooch, DCR's Forest Health program supervisor.

"Our tree traps found the ash borer at Wahconah Falls on the Dalton/Windsor line, October Mountain State Forest [in Washington], Appalachian Trail in Hinsdale and Grange Hall Road in Dalton," Gooch said in an Eagle interview. "We expected it would spread, but not this fast."

The emerald ash borer's presence in Massachusetts was initially discovered in August, 2012, when the flying insect turned up in a trap along Kirchner Road in Dalton. Two months later, five more were found within a 1.5-mile radius of the area, according to DCR officials.

Since 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, DCR, as of March 1, 2013, quarantined Berkshire wood in a bid to limit the spread of the bad bugs. The invasive beetles can kill a tree in a matter of a few years.

DCR is also seriously considering a second quarantine for Essex County, north of Boston, after a heavy concentration of emerald ash borers were found late last year in North Andover. DCR officials suspect the invasive insect may have been in the northeastern Massachusetts community prior to being found in Central Berkshire.

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.

"The timber industry has been working with us to contain them," said Gooch. "The issue is when private citizens move wood for camping."

He added, "We already ban bringing outside firewood into state campgrounds and some private campgrounds have been proactive about that, too."

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 21 other states, including Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.

Several local loggers last year 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.

"There have been issues with isolated quarantines in other states impacting the lumber industry," said Jeff Hutchins, executive director for the Massachusetts Forest Alliance, representing woodland owners and the forest products industry.

Federal and state environmental officials have said a statewide quarantine will only hasten the spread of the ash borer. Wood is allowed to move freely within a quarantine area.

A borer, which lays eggs in the tree's bark, can kill a healthy ash tree in three to five years. The larvae that hatch spring out to 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 and federal officials have said.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't believe the insect can be eradicated," Hutchins said.

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

Last summer, DCR introduced two predatory insects to the Kirchner Road area of Dalton, but its effectiveness won't be known for another five to 10 years, according to Gooch.

Nathan Seigert, forest entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has said logging infested ash trees, using insecticides in small areas, as well as 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

The Department of Conservation and Recreation quarantine on Berkshire County wood went into effect March 1, 2013. 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 4 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