Vt. forests healthy despite weather, invasive species

Saturday January 19, 2013

BENNINGTON -- Vermont's forests are in good shape despite some damage related to weather and invasive species, according to state and federal officials.

Barbara Burns, forest health program manager for the state forest department, said Bennington County is fairly typical in terms of its forest health compared to the rest of the state, however it's on the "front line" when it comes to invasive species the state anticipates seeing sometime in the future.

Burns said weather and climate are the most important things driving forest health and they tie into the spread of invasive species as well. As the winters get warmer, species checked by the cold now survive and spread better. The emerald ash borer, a beetle that infests ash trees and has caused damage in other states such as New York and Massachusetts, has not been seen yet in Vermont but the state is anticipating its arrival by researching bio-controls -- for example, bugs that will eat the ash borer -- and methods which other ash species use to resist the borer infestations.

Burns said the state is urging people to get firewood locally as the borer and other invasive species, some the state isn't aware of, can spread in that fashion.

Burns was involved recently with a beetle release in Pownal where the hemlock woolly adelgid has been discovered. The adelgid is an invasive, aphid-like creature that harms hemlocks, and a certain species of black beetle preys solely on the adelgid. Burns and another state employee released nearly 400 beetles near the Massachusetts/Vermont border with the hope the beetle will spread and keep the adelgid in check.

She said this year people in Bennington County seemed to notice the twig girdler, a type of boring beetle that infests oak trees, causing twigs to break off. She said the beetle is a native pest and for whatever reason was more widely noticed this year. She said the wet springs for the past few years have also helped tree fungus do well.

According to a report released earlier this month by the state Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation along with the U.S. Forest Service, 78 percent of Vermont is covered in forest. Of that, 83 percent is privately owned with 8 percent being part of the federally managed Green Mountain National Forest, and 7 percent the state forest system. The state's most common trees are sugar and red maple, eastern hemlock, and white pine.

The report states that 88,286 acres of forest damage was surveyed, which is only about 2 percent of the total forested land in Vermont. Much of the damage was defoliation caused by frost, fungi, and pear thrips while a quarter was beech bark disease.


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