Ash tree beetle bores further into state

The invasive and destructive beetle that attacks ash trees seems to have dug in even more deeply here. The emerald ash borer, which turned up in five New Haven County communities last summer after being held at bay for years across the border in New York, has been found in three more communities.

Cheshire, Oxford and Middlebury are now home to the pest along with Naugatuck, Bethany, Beacon Falls, Waterbury and the town considered the epicenter – Prospect.

“The bug itself is mobile, it will fly for miles,” said Chris Martin, the state forester and director of the Division of Forestry at the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in accounting for how the borer spread. The question that has never been definitively answered is how it got to Prospect.

The borer had sat in New York State on the western side of the Hudson River for several years, finally jumping to Dutchess County on eastern side of the river in 2011. Connecticut officials had expected it to turn up here sooner or later. The surprise was that it showed up in the middle of the state.

“We don’t have the smoking gun,” Martin said. But he has a pretty good idea – firewood.

And so the restrictions on the movement of firewood and other wood products put in place last summer will remain. No cut and split firewood or long logs destined to become firewood can be moved from New Haven County to any other county in the state unless they’re treated, typically done with fumigation or heat.

A federal quarantine prohibiting untreated ash from New Haven County from being moved to other states is also in place. No firewood can be moved into Connecticut or from county-to-county without verification.

The state is also working with other operations such as solid waste facilities, state parks and loggers as well as FEMA and Department of Transportation workers handling storm tree clean up from Sandy and the recent blizzard, to insure wood is handled properly.

“Are we catching every stick of firewood that leaves New Haven County?” Martin asked. “No.”

Martin said the recent blizzard and other snow will have no impact on the borer. Any eggs were laid last year and are now protected by the snow under the bark where they have burrowed.

Since the summer, the state has run a tree cutting and detection program, sending letters and knocking on doors of homeowners and others in a 7.5 mile radius around Prospect asking for donations of their ash trees. So far 40-60 ash trees six-to-eight inches in diameter have been cut down to be inspected. It was through that work that the additional infestations were found.

Municipalities and landscapers have also been advised not to plant ash trees and to be prepared financially to deal with problems.

“The word is definitely out to municipalities and landscapers not to use ash trees and plan for some take-downs,” Martin said. We were hoping that the Hudson River was going to hold it back forever.

“It’s all about buying time. We’re not losing hope – we’re trying our best to keep it where it is.”

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