PITTSFIELD -- A quarantine is inevitable on the distribution of certain wood products to prevent the spread of the tree-destroying emerald ash borer in Massachusetts, state and federal environmental officials said Tuesday night.
Whether the quarantine is limited to Berkshire County, or is statewide, remains to be seen.
The discovery of a single ash borer in Dalton in late August has prompted the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to seriously consider limiting the sale and distribution of ash lumber and all hardwood firewood. The DCR will make a decision after weighing public comment and receiving more information regarding the threat of the metallic green beetle that has infested 17 other states.
"We have a responsibility to limit the spread," said DCR Commissioner Ed Lambert, during a forum on the emerald ash borer at the Berkshire Athenaeum.
"We can’t take no action at all," Lambert noted.
However, should the DCR rule out even a partial quarantine -- most likely just the Berkshires -- the federal government will issue a statewide one, according Patricia Douglass of the U.S. Department Agriculture (USDA).
"But if we do that, we’re hastening the spread of the emerald ash borer," Douglass said, noting the quarantine would only limit movement of wood products beyond state borders.
Several loggers felt a statewide quarantine would limit the financial impact on wood harvesters.
"If you quarantine the whole state, we can still move product around the state," said veteran logger Dwayne Piese of Chester.
The ash borer poses a particular threat to forests in Berkshire County, which contain 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.
An ash borer can kill a healthy ash tree in three to five years. It lays eggs in the tree’s bark. 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 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.
"The quicker we can locate them, the quicker we can prevent them from spreading," said Ken Gooch, DCR’s forest health program director.
While eradicating the emerald ash borer is nearly impossible, federal environmental officials say several measure can be taken to reduce their population.
Nathan Siegert, forest entomologist for the USDA, said logging infested ash trees, using insecticides in small areas and relying on the ash borer’s natural enemies can also help keep the bad bug at bay.
"Woodpeckers are great for honing in on the late stage larvae," he said.
Bug out Š
Massachusetts is considering an in-state quarantine on certain wood products to prevent the spread of the emerald ash borer. The destructive beetles are present if:
* D-shaped exit holes are in the bark of ash trees.
* Dying parts in the upper third of the tree canopy.
* Sprouting of branches just below the dead area.
To report suspicious tree damage or insect sightings: www.massnrc.org/pests 0r (866) 322-4512.
For more information about emerald ash borers: www.emeraldashborer.info.