NEWBURYPORT — A bug that has scourged ash trees throughout the nation has finally made its way to Essex County, and the city’s Tree Commission is taking proactive steps to make citizens aware.
An infestation of emerald ash borer beetles was identified last month in a stand of ash trees near the China Blossom restaurant in North Andover, off Route 133. It’s the only known infestation in the county, but its presence has sent up alarm signals across the region.
The infestation is about 20 miles from Newburyport, and efforts are underway to contain it.
The bugs can only spread a quarter mile or so a year on their own, said Newburyport Tree Commissioner Dave Dylewski. The more serious threat of spread is via firewood — the beetles can be inadvertently transported long distances via sales of infested firewood, and so it is expected that state authorities will soon quarantine firewood sales within Essex County until the infestation is eliminated.
Ash trees make up about four percent of Newburyport’s tree canopy, said Dylewski.
The Tree Commission is trying to help residents understand the threat the beetles cause, and educate people on what to look for. Tomorrow Dylewski will present the first educational session to students at the River Valley Charter School in Newburyport. The commission is also considering putting together information to help the public identify the beetles, said Dylewski.
Emerald ash borers pose a serious threat to the state’s ash tree population, according to Ken Gooch, director of the forest health program for the state Department of Conservation and Recreation. The larvae can kill a tree within three to five years. The presence of woodpeckers hunting for those larvae is an indication that the beetle has found yet another victim, he said.
The invasive beetle has destroyed millions of ash trees since it appeared in the U.S. a decade ago. Prior to the North Andover discovery, it had previously been found in Berkshire County, in the extreme western end of the state.
North Andover selectmen voted last week to give the state permission to cut down white ash trees on town property so they can be checked for infestation. If the tests indicate that large numbers of white ash trees have been infested, the state will impose a quarantine, according to Peter Church, director of forest stewardship for the Department of Conservation and Recreation. The quarantine would bar white ash wood from being moved out of Essex County, he said.
The emerald ash borer is a beetle that’s metallic green, with purple abdominal segments. It’s native to China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan and came to the United States from those countries in wooden packing materials, Gooch said.
He pointed out that trade between East Asia and the United States has increased dramatically during the last several years. The emerald ash borer made its first known appearance in the United States in 2002, he said, when it was discovered in the Detroit area.
It has since shown up in 23 states and Canada, he said. The beetle was found in Dalton, in the far western part of Massachusetts, in August 2012, Gooch said.
The adult beetle lays its eggs in ash trees, Gooch explained. When the eggs hatch, the larvae then feed on the inner bark — the cambrium — and eventually the tree dies.
Emerald ash borer attacks only ash trees, according to Gooch. Within the United States, it is spread by firewood being moved from place to place, he said. Gooch said white ash trees can be protected from the emerald ash borer by applying a pesticide. The state is reluctant to use pesticides because of the effect they may have on the environment, he said.
The ash borer larvae leave a distinctive mark on a tree, an S-shaped, serpentine pattern, he said. Within the next few weeks, tests on white ash logs will be conducted at Harold Parker State Forest in Andover to see if they have been infested, he said.
In central Massachusetts, thousands of trees have been cut down in recent years to try to eradicate a different invasive menace, the Asian longhorned beetle. It’s likely no trees will be cut down to stop the emerald ash borer, because officials are using a strategy of containment, not eradication.
Instead, officials have said they are aiming to slow the beetle’s spread while the USDA works to introduce insects that prey on the bug. A similar strategy worked to contain gypsy moths.
The longhorned beetle attacks maple trees, and is a potentially larger threat. About 50 to 60 percent of Newburyport’s tree canopy consists of maple trees, Dylewski said. A small infestation of longhorned beetles was found in Jamaica Plain, and was controlled. Thus far none of the beetles have been found in the Newburyport area.
The city’s Tree Commission is currently seeking a commission member and an alternate member, according to chairman Ed Taylor. Members do not necessarily have to have expertise in botany or the study of trees to join the commission; people skilled in project management are being sought.
Facts about the emerald ash borer - A beetle that attacks white ash trees. Once infested, the tree usually dies within three years. - The adult female lays its eggs in crevices in the bark. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the inner bark, eventually destroying the tissue through which nutrients flow. - It most likely arrived in the U.S. from China, Korea and Japan through wooden packing materials made from white ash. - It does not appear to infest other tree species , according to Ken Gooch, forest health program supervisor for the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. - It was first discovered in Massachusetts in August 2012 in the town of Dalton. - It was first detected in the U.S. in 2002 in the Detroit area. - The beetle has killed tens of millions of ash trees in southeastern Michigan alone, with tens of millions more lost in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Quebec, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin, according to www.emeraldashborer.info. - Other pests that have attacked trees in Masschusetts: The Asian longhorned beetle, discovered in Worcester in 2008; and the gypsy moth, brought to Boston in the latter 19th century by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, a French artist and scientist who envisioned starting a silkworm industry.