The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees throughout the country, has been found in Maine for the first time, in the northern town of Madawaska.
Maine entomologists have been searching and preparing for this destructive insect from Asia for over a decade, and now that it has been discovered, state and federal officials are meeting to implement a statewide emergency-response plan.
“We’ve been planning for it, and now we’re in the process of implementing a response,” John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said. “We need to gather more information from the field and then there will be a discussion as to what happens next.”
The discovery was made on May 22, when a team of DACF and US Forest Service biologists found a pre-pupa (early stage of the insect’s life) form of the pest under the bark of an ash tree on the banks of the St. John River in Madawaska. The team had responded to the area following the recent discovery of emerald ash borer in Edmundston, New Brunswick, which is just across the river from Madawaska.
“For the longest time experts have been saying it’s probably here and we just haven’t found it,” Bott said. “We anticipated it coming across the border from New Hampshire because recently it was just 17 miles away. Then it was found in Vermont. Then Quebec.”
To determine the extent of the infestation, a multi-agency survey effort has been launched including personnel from the Maine DACF, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and USFS. Additional information will be released to the public about the infestation and the emergency-response plan as more is learned from teams in the field and as data is processed.
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and speculate what happens next,” Bott said. “We need to get all the facts and appropriate personnel in and make decisions as to what type of measures will be taken.”
Emerald ash borer was first discovered in Michigan in 2002, though it is believed to have arrived in the U.S. in the 1990s. The beetle is about a half inch long and metallic green. Its larva tunnels through the wood just under the bark of ash trees and can kill even healthy trees in three-to-five years.
There are no practical means to control emerald ash borer in forested areas, though pesticide treatments can protect individual trees.
Other states with emerald ash borer infestations, such as New Hampshire, have established firewood and lumber quarantine areas in an effort to slow the spread of the insect. If done in Maine, it would seriously impact the lumber industry because lumber cannot be transported out of quarantine areas. Already, Maine issued a ban in 2010 on untreated out-of-state firewood in order to protect the state’s forests and wildlife from the introduction and spread of destructive insects, such as the emerald ash borer.
Ash trees comprise about 4 percent of Maine’s hardwood forest, with an estimated commercial, unprocessed value of approximately $320 million.
“It’s tough to put a number on it,” Bott said. “That number is the stumpage, if you sold the tree in the ground. That doesn’t account for making ash into tool handles and baseball bats. There are a lot of good uses for ash. It’s a really good wood. It’s understating the economic value once you start processing that wood and it rippling through the economy.”
Ash wood is also used by Maine’s Native American tribes in traditional basket making, Bott pointed out.
Anticipating the arrival of emerald ash borer and the inevitable destruction it causes, Maine officials have been preparing for the past 15 years through public outreach and conducting several types of surveys in attempt to find any infestation as soon as possible.
“As one of our entomologists says, it’s like cancer. You don’t want to find it, but you do want to find it as soon as possible if it’s there,” Bott said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
Slowing the spread of eastern ash borer is crucial. An emerald ash borer generally moves only about one half-mile on its own in a year, but can move hundreds of miles in a single day within a piece of infested firewood. Therefore, state officials are asking the public to use local firewood and spread the word to family and friends. Sources of treated or local firewood can be found online at firewood scout http://firewoodscout.org/s/ME/.
The public can also help search for emerald ash borer infestations by keeping an eye out for tell-tale signs, such as heavy woodpecker damage on ash trees, which is the only species of tree the pest damages. These signs and more information about emerald ash borers are available at www.emeraldashborer.info/.