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February 4, 2014

On the lookout for tree-killing beetles

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.

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