KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- With the nearest emerald ash borer infestation only about 50 miles away, the town figures now is a good time to begin planning on how it will respond to the damage the invasive pest is expected to cause.
Shelly Stiles, district manager of the Bennington County Conservation District, said the first step is to see how many ash trees are on town land and rights of way so the scope of the problem can be known. That means gathering a group of volunteers who know their trees to do a survey after the foliage season peaks.
"We would like people to self identify as competent naturalists," she said, adding that they can train volunteers to fill out forms and do tree counts, but how to spot an ash tree is knowledge they would like people to have beforehand so the count will be accurate.
To volunteer, call 802-442-2275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stiles said the ash tree has distinctive bark and branch patterns and can be easily detected when the forest leaves are dropped. A person with an airplane has also volunteered the use of it to do some aerial scouting. Stiles said the main target of this survey is trees on town land and town rights of way. Knowing how many ash trees are on private land and where they are would be nice, she said, in the event the town can do anything for those plants.
Bennington Planning Director Dan Monks said the town is responsible for clearing dead trees from town land when they threaten people or property. According to Stiles, removal of a large tree by a private contractor can cost upwards of $300. Monks said it would not cost town crews that much, but it depends on where the tree is and its size. There are about seven ash trees planted in the downtown area, which if killed by ash borers would have to be cut and replaced.
Even if the town does not have many ash trees growing within its responsibility, the transfer station, which accepts wood debris, might have to deal with infested material being brought in by citizens with dead trees. Monks said there are regulations for disposing of that material and one aspect of this plan is learning how the debris will be managed.
Stiles said some parts of the ash trees can be salvaged and sold, but the town should be hesitant to invest much into that prospect as the trees will be gone within a few years of the borer population reaching this area. She said the beetle moves about half a mile a year on its own, but hitches rides on firewood. This past year, emerald ash borers have been found in Dalton, Mass. and Voorheesville, N.Y.
The U.S. Forest Service has banned firewood from being brought into campgrounds to try and slow the spread of the emerald ash borer and other invasive pests.
Once the survey is complete, said Stiles, the town will know what it has to plan for. Stiles said the damage to ash tree populations elsewhere in the country has been so severe that there are efforts to collect seeds from the trees to replant them once the beetle has eliminated the existing ones.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, adult emerald ash borers are bullet shaped, about 13 millimeters long, and a bright, metallic green in color. They lay their eggs on the outside of ash trees, which hatch and burrow into the tree. In this form, their bodies are long and flat and they form S-shaped galleries in the tree, disrupting its vascular system. An infested tree will exhibit "dieback" in the branches of the upper crown, excessive "epicormic branching," -Lots of branches growing from the trunk- and vertical splits in the bark. Infested ash trees often get much attention from woodpeckers, which damage the trees themselves.
A wealth of information on the emerald ash bored can be found at emeraldashborer.info, a website supported by over a dozen states within the U.S., and Canada.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.