Preparing for the ash borer: Charlotte and Hinesburg triage the trees

Photo courtesy UVM Extension Service
Adult emerald ash borer with wings open.

By MADELINE HUGHES

At the end of July, state officials confirmed that the emerald ash borer, an invasive species from Asia, was found in Bennington County, the fourth Vermont county where the tree-killing insect has been found since February.

“Once infested, ash trees rapidly decline and are killed in 3-5 years,” according to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The pest is known to be established in 35 states and four Canadian provinces, and is responsible for widespread decline and mortality of hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America, the agency warned.

Ash borers are confirmed to be in Orange, Caledonia and Washington counties in Vermont as well.

With that in mind, tree officials in Charlotte and Hinesburg are preparing for the ash borer’s arrival in Chittenden County.

Ash trees account for a small portion of trees in Vermont forests, and are more popular in urban areas.

State and federal officials tracking the spread of ash borers explain that the insect’s larvae kill ash trees “by tunneling under the bark and feeding on the part of the tree that moves water and sugars up and down the trunk.” The pest was first discovered in North America in the Detroit area in 2002, and over the past 16 years, it has decimated ash populations.

Keen-eyed observers may have noticed the purple detection traps around the state that have been erected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help determine where the insects have moved.

Charlotte’s collective bargaining

Mark Dillenback, Charlotte’s tree warden, organized an emerald ash borer preparedness planning committee, which is working on a plan of dealing with the potential invaders.

Their plan: outreach to help prepare people in town.

“As much as we can get people thinking about this, it helps our town,” Dillenback said. That includes limiting potential exposure by not allowing outside firewood into town, and budgeting for tree removal or chemical tree-treating.

Charlotte’s preparedness planning committee is organizing a town-wide contract for chemical treating of ash trees, which is the only way to potentially avoid infestation and dead trees. In the interest of getting the best price for the town and residents, the committee decided that collective bargaining would work. Instead of having everyone interested in the chemical treating shop around for the best price, the committee will do that.

Property owners interested in the program can contact Dillenback at 425-2106.

The planning committee is also looking at which trees to take down over the coming years and which ones to protect. Trees in the public right of way are the committee’s first priority, Dillenback said.

Protecting Hinesburg’s forest

Hinesburg’s 2016 forest management plan has identified pockets of ash trees, and it notes that there is an abundance of ash tree seedlings because of a good seed year in 2016.

“There seems to be little doubt that the (emerald ash borer) will have a large impact on our Town Forests,” Pat Mainer, Hinesburg Forest Committee chair, wrote in an email. “Our committee will likely work to minimize, mitigate and adjust to that impact.”

The committee has been working closely with Ethan Tapper, the Chittenden County forester, to develop a “timber management plan for the Hinesburg Town Forest that aims to promote species and structural diversity and improve the overall health and resiliency of the forest,” Mainer wrote.

The forest committee will continue to talk about tree management at meetings this fall.

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