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Ash-killing beetle found in New Hampshire

The emerald ash borer, a type of beetle that kills and attacks ash trees, has been found in New Hampshire.

In a press release from the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development and the Department of Agriculture, Markets, and Food confirmed in a press release issued Sunday that the emerald ash borer has been found in the state. On March 28, an infested tree was found in Concord, and the species’ identity has been confirmed.

According to the press release, New Hampshire has been expecting the arrival of this invasive species for some time. The beetle has been found in 19 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces, and has been found previously in states east of New Hampshire. And local conservation commissions are on the look out in the event of its arrival in the Monadnock region.

State forest agencies have already implemented an action plan in anticipation of the bug’s arrival in the state, and will begin a survey of New Hampshire’s ash trees to determine how far infestation has spread. The survey will begin in Concord, where the first infestation was discovered.

Ash makes up about 6 percent of New Hampshire’s northern hardwood forest, and is commonly used in landscaping. Once infected, an emerald ash borer infestation can kill a healthy tree in three to five years, according to the press release. The Concord infestation is the first discovery of the beetle in New Hampshire and the easternmost detection in North America. The most common method of infestation is though infected firewood transported from campsite to campsite.

Merrimack County was put under a hardwood quarantine Monday morning. The entire state has been under a firewood quarantine, not allowing firewood to enter or leave the state, since 2011. Now, areas discovered to be infested will also have to quarantine ash firewood, nursery stock, green lumber, and any other material, living, dead, cut or fallen, including chips, stumps, branches, roots and debris.

Currently Merrimack County is under a 30-day quarantine. At the end of the month, once the state has a better understanding through their own survey and civilian reports of whether or not the infestation has spread, the quarantine may be extended in area or length of time, according to Karen Bennett, an extension forestry specialist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

“Right now we have only confirmed one infested tree,” Bennett said in an interview Monday. “It may not sound like so much, but where there’s one there might be more. It’s an incredibly destructive pest. If we do have more, it’s bad news for our ash.”

Antrim Conservation Commission Chair Peter Beblowski said in an interview Monday that the state had kept local networks aware of the eastward progress of the emerald ash borer, and Antrim has been keeping an eye out for possible infestations for several years now. Several commission members are already trained to recognize signs of the ash borer, and now that there is a confirmed infestation they will be doing more recognition training, Beblowski said.

Bennett said that single trees on properties may be able to be treated with pesticides, but for the forest population there is little the state can do in the way of eradicating any potential problems.

State forestry agencies are currently intensely surveying the area in the four miles around the initial infested site, and will continue to survey the area to determine if there is a larger population of the beetle, Bennett said. Residents who believe they may have an infestation can report it at www.nhbugs.org.

The bugs generally start at the top of the tree, and often go unnoticed until it’s too late, Bennett said. Property owners with ash trees should look first at the tops of trees for dead material. A larger than usual amount of activity from birds such as woodpeckers around an ash tree could also be a sign of infestation. The boring holes of the emerald ash borer are small and “D” shaped, and under the bark, larvae can leave “S”-shaped grooves in the wood.

“People should look at their ash, familiarize themselves in signs and symptoms, and be an extra pair of eyes for us,” Bennett advised, although she cautioned against jumping the gun and treating a tree without first confirming an infestation.

Economically, in the state, ash is about 1 percent of saw log production and 1 percent of sawmill production, and annually more than $1 million in ash is milled or logged, Bennett said. But there are also visual and ecological impacts to be considered, she said.

“Ash is an important part of our natural communities. It grows in areas of better, richer sites, so ecologically it’s important, though its minor in terms of numbers,” she said.

Swift Corwin, a consulting forester with Calhoun and Corwin Forestry in Peterborough, said that the beetle doesn’t have any natural predators in the area, so if an infestation is found, it can go through a local ash population fairly quickly. “We may be able to control the spread chemically for trees in local yards, but not in the woods, and that’s what makes it scary,” he said in an interview Monday.

While ash is not a large part of the hardwood tree population in the area, it is widespread throughout the state, Corwin said.

“One of the wonderful things about New England forests is there’s diversity,” he said. “Ash makes up a small percentage of any given span of mixed hardwoods. But we’re in one of the best areas for ash.”

The emerald ash borer is a concern, Corwin said, and has led to the removal of landscaped shade ash in other states where the infestation has been found, but he advised residents not to become alarmed over the news of a single infestation.

“It’s certainly a problem, but not something to panic about,” he cautioned. “I think they’re catching it early and getting the word out.”

Mason Conservation Commission Chair Liz Fletcher said the commission has been aware of the possibility of the ash borer moving into the state for some time, along with other invasive species. In the past, the state has put out traps specifically to capture any potential ash bore beetles, she said.

“Mason is a border town, so they must have been trying to see if there were any coming from the south,” Fletcher said, but thankfully there hasn’t been any discovered there. “This ash borer is a great concern, because it was found right in the middle of the state,” she said. “So it could show up anywhere. We’re lucky so far, but who knows.”

Peterborough Conservation Chair Francie Von Mertens said that this is another stress on the local tree population, both in terms of invasive bug populations and disease. “There’s an awful history of blights that have hit our trees and this is the most recent one,” she said.

“This is on the back of diseases impacting our beech, hemlock spruce. It’s one of a number of pathogens impacting our trees, and it’s just one more in a long line of pressures for our forests,” said Hancock Conservation Commission Chair Eric Masterson.

For more information or to report a possible infestation, visit www.nhbugs.org or contact the UNH Cooperative Extension Forestry Information Center hotline at 1-800-444-8978.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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