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Merrimack County ash wood products quarantined after ash borer invasion

  • State officials announced the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire. The ash tree is located between Interstate 93 and Hall Street. A quarantine of all hardwood cut in the next 30 days has been imposed on Merrimack County and the testing of ash trees with a 1 mile radius will take place over the next few weeks. <br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    State officials announced the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire. The ash tree is located between Interstate 93 and Hall Street. A quarantine of all hardwood cut in the next 30 days has been imposed on Merrimack County and the testing of ash trees with a 1 mile radius will take place over the next few weeks.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • Jeffrey Rose, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development  speaks at a press confrence announcing the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

    Jeffrey Rose, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development speaks at a press confrence announcing the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire.

    (ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

  • State officials announced the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire. The ash tree is located between Interstate 93 and Hall Street. A quarantine of all hardwood cut in the next 30 days has been imposed on Merrimack County and the testing of ash trees with a 1 mile radius will take place over the next few weeks. <br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)
  • Jeffrey Rose, Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development  speaks at a press confrence announcing the discovery of a tree infested by the emerald ash borer in Concord; Monday, April 9, 2013. It is the easternmost sighting of the insect and the first in New Hampshire. <br/><br/>(ALEXANDER COHN / Monitor staff)

State officials announced yesterday a quarantine on all ash wood products from Merrimack County, the first step in efforts to save millions of trees, and potentially millions of dollars, from an invasive pest spotted in Concord.

With more than 25 million ash trees in the northern forests and unknown numbers of the popular shade tree in urban areas, state officials acted quickly on a tip about unusually fervent woodpecker activity on a Hall Street ash tree late last month, said Piera Siegert, state entomologist.

The birds love the “good, cheap, easy meal” provided by emerald ash borer larvae just under the tree bark, she said.

Officials will spend the next four to six weeks inspecting ash trees in 6 square miles of the original sighting, trying to map the pest’s reach. They asked residents to identify any ash trees on their property and look for signs of infestation.

Adult emerald ash borers measure between 7.5 and 13.5 mm long, with bright, metallic green wings and a reddish-purple abdomen. Borer larvae tunnel under the bark, cutting off the supply of nutrient-filled sap. The first signs of trouble are dead limbs near the top of the tree, or, as in the case of the Hall Street tree, uncommonly eager woodpeckers.

Ash trees often die within five years of infestation, though certain pesticides can be applied to save the tree. If left unchecked, the emerald ash borer population could wipe out ash trees in New Hampshire within 10 years, said Nathan Siegert, a forest entomologist with the USDA.

The emerald ash borer is native to southeast Asia and was first found in North America in Michigan in 2002. Since then it has spread to 19 states, including New York, Connecticut and western Massachusetts, and two Canadian provinces, mostly via contaminated fire wood or nursery stock ash trees.

New Hampshire enacted a ban on out-of-state firewood in July 2011, but it’s likely the Hall Street tree was infested before then, Nathan Siegert said.

State officials said they also will be working with and inspecting timber and lumber companies in Hopkinton, Chichester, Pembroke, Loudon, Canterbury and Bow.

Of the more than 223 million board-feet of lumber cut in New Hampshire annually, about 1 percent is ash, said Brad Simpkins, state forester with the Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Companies will have to show that their ash wood has been or will be treated to kill or remove any emerald ash borers in order to receive a compliance agreement and permit to move the wood out of the county. Businesses that don’t comply could face losing their licenses.

“Basically the focus of the quarantines is to slow the artificial spread of EAB (emerald ash borers) so you can slow ash mortality and give some of these other technologies a chance to catch up,” said Piera Siegert.

Those other technologies include pesticides applied to individual trees and the fostering of a wasp species that hunts the borer.

Ross Farquhar, general manager at Brochu Nurseries in Concord, said the company stopped planting ash several years ago, when states beyond Michigan began spotting the pest.

Still, the trees that were planted before then have now grown, and make up between $10,000 and $15,000 of his inventory. With so many ash trees in the ground in one place, the nursery agreed to participate with the state in hosting purple triangular traps designed to attract any emerald ash borers in the area.

So far, they’ve all turned up empty, Farquhar said.

A hardwood that doesn’t need to be dried or seasoned, ash is highly sought after firewood, said Bill Day, owner of Oak Country Lumber in Chichester.

In the industry, “ash means baseball bats, flooring, cabinetry,” Day said. It also has started to mean “hard-to-find,” he said: “Ash has been a desirable species because, of late, it’s been getting rarer and rarer.

“It’s very easy to split, very East to work with, but there’s not a whole lot of it around, so when people can get it for firewood they’re very happy to have it. Whether they might be paying a premium for it now is what we’ll have to see.”

Yesterday, Day estimated he had about $1,000 worth of ash wood stock in the yard. Moving ash wood to his main consumers in Canada and Michigan has always meant maintaining permits to get through quarantined counties in Illinois and Indiana.

“Now, I guess I’ll have one more layer of paperwork with permits from the state, too,” he said.

Ross D’Elia, president of HHP Inc, a hardwood dealer in Henniker, agreed.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a huge financial heartbreak. On most woodlots white ash is not the predominant wood growing there,” he said. “That said, it’s always a concern. You’d hate to lose a species. You hate to see another elm, repeat the demise of the chestnut. Nobody likes that.”

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or
spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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