St. John Valley

State bans ash, firewood movement in northern Aroostook due to emerald ash borer

AUGUSTA, Maine — Emerald ash borer infestation prompted state officials Friday, Aug. 10, to issue an emergency order preventing the movement of certain ash products and untreated firewood in northern Aroostook County. Firewood dealers and consumers will be among those hardest hit.

Specifically targeting Frenchville, Grand Isle and Madawaska, the order restricts the movement of the wood due to the detection of emerald ash borer in that area.

“To protect the ash resources of the state of Maine from the unrestricted spread and establishment of a dangerous tree-killing forest pest, the director of the Maine Bureau of Forestry has taken action,” officials with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in a press release.

Though the detected area of infestation covers a relatively small area at this point, the situation warrants taking immediate action to stop the insects’ spread.

(Courtesy of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry)

“It is going to move throughout the state,” said John Bott, DACF spokesman, Monday. “Uniformly, thus far, this is not an insect that has been stopped in other states. It is very important, though, to slow its spread because there is still a lot of commercial and aesthetic value to ash trees.”  

“This hits firewood dealers hard,” Bott said, “because we have to ban firewood. Most firewood is mixed wood [species]. Your local firewood dealers are going to be most impacted.”

In the worst-case scenario, Maine could lose its valuable ash trees — important not only for wood products, but as community trees and for Native American crafts such as basketmaking.

“Over time, yes, it will decimate the ash trees in the area,” said Bott, “unless a biological control [is developed] or we identify a more resistant species.”

Friday’s action intends to slow the spread of the infestation, Bott said. The department is negotiating with federal officials on quarantine recommendations.

“What we want to do is demonstrate to the feds that we have a surveillance and containment strategy in place, so the quarantine is no larger than it needs to be,” he said.

Emerald ash borers kill trees by burrowing into the wood and feeding on it. Infested ash trees could die within two to three years.

According to the DACF press release, the bright green insect first appeared in southeastern Michigan in 2002, and from there spread rapidly. As of this month, the emerald ash borer is evident in 35 states and four Canadian provinces. In its 16-year history in the U.S., the pest has reportedly killed hundreds of millions of ash trees in affected areas, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Scientists detected an infestation of emerald ash borer in early May in Edmundston, New Brunswick, about 500 yards from the Maine border, and state officials discovered Maine’s first ash borers later that month in Madawaska, near the Frenchville town line. In early August, purple trap surveys revealed emerald ash borers in Grand Isle.

Maine forestry officials most commonly use purple prism traps to detect EAB. The traps, according to invasiveinsects.ca, are made with corrugated plastic and baited with a lure. Purple prism traps contain Manuka oil, a type of tea-tree oil.

“You’ll see the purple traps hanging in the tree,” said Bott. Another method is to de-bark a small strip from the tree so scientists can observe insect activity.

Following the initial detection in May, the state Bureau of Forestry notified commercial timber harvest operations, firewood dealers, and nursery and plant sellers within Madawaska and Frenchville and apprised them of the situation.

Agriculture and forestry officials met June 18 in Frenchville with more than 40 citizens, who expressed their concerns and sought advice about how to protect their woodlots. Following the meeting, the DACF sent out a letter encouraging additional input, expecting to issue an Emergency Order to Stop Movement of Ash in August.

The restriction of potentially infested material includes firewood of all hardwood species; nursery stock, green lumber, and other material living, dead, cut, or fallen, including logs, stumps, roots, branches, and composted and uncomposted chips of ash wood from the genus Fraxinus.

If there is a bright side, it is that EAB infestation is relatively slow-moving.

“It spreads naturally very slowly,” Bott said, “like a half-mile up to a mile a year — but can be transported very quickly through moving firewood or ash trees.”

The worst-case scenario is that the pest will kill all of Maine’s ash trees, according to Bott. While some treatments exist, it’s impossible to target large areas.

“There are some things that arborists can do, say if you had six trees in your backyard,” he said. “But that’s very costly and can’t be done on a large scale — it can’t be done in forests.”

DACF data reveal that ash trees comprise 4 percent of Maine’s hardwood forest. EAB threatens all species of ash trees (except mountain ash) and could have significant ecological and economic impacts on the state.

To assist wood processors in complying with the order requirements, the Maine Forest Service will provide a list through email distribution of active forest operations within the order area. Requests to be added to this list should be directed to: forestinfo@maine.gov.

The DACF will host another informational meeting on emerald ash borer at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, tentatively scheduled at the Frenchville Community Center.

For more information, visit the DACF’s ash borer information page at www.maine.gov/eab.

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