Area EAB experts respond to changes coming to invasive beetle fight

Published: Dec. 31, 2020 at 8:30 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Come Jan. 14, the federal government is changing the way it fights the invasion of the emerald ash borer. So what does that mean for our region and our fight?

Before 2020, “The Big Quarantine” was the nickname used to describe all the states under a federal quarantine agreement to slow the spread of the emerald ash borer. It meant there were rules between different states about moving ash wood and investigating violations. The USDA now says those rules aren’t effective anymore, as the bug has made its way into 35 states and D.C.

“I have mixed feelings,” said Vermont Entomologist Judy Rosovsky.

She says under the federal quarantine, all understood the rules about moving wood with each other, now it’s up to loggers to figure it out state-by-state.

“Some states may be like, ‘Whatever, just move your wood,’ others may want some arrangement,” Rosovsky said.

Vermont is not one of the “whatever” states. In fact, Rosovsky says the federal change doesn’t change much for Vermonters.

“Our rules are still in place; they’re slightly more restrictive than the federal quarantine,” she said.

Vermont will still have rules about anyone moving or selling wood with pests along with recommendations about how to safely do it, especially during the ash borer’s flight season.

“It does look like we have EAB all over the place, but there are actually lots of places where there’s not EAB, and it would help if we kept it that way,” said Rosovsky.

The USDA isn’t giving up. Now, the focus is shifting full time onto what’s called biocontrol agents or wasps. They’re stingless and tiny and lay eggs right into the larvae of the EAB, eating them. But they can’t breed fast enough to kill enough beetles to save the bigger ash trees. The hope is they’ll be able to save the smaller saplings, so after a big die-off, a new generation of ash trees will grow.

Vermont just started using one species, so it’s too soon to tell how it’s going.

“Federal government is very enthusiastic about getting out the parasitoids once we have a bio release site,” said Josh Halman, a Vermont forest health specialist with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, who runs the wasp release program.

Right now, wasps have been let out in two counties and they’re actively looking for more sites to release more species of wasp.

“Next year, we’re getting three species of bio-control that will help us fight the emerald ash borer a little bit better,” Halman said.

Next door, New Hampshire has released wasps since 2014. Bill Davidson, a forest health specialist with the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, says they have released in 20 sites and have done evaluations at 11. He says the results are encouraging.

“One of the species we found up to five miles from the release site and so it is establishing and spreading, which is the goal,” he said.

Davidson is also looking for more sites to release wasps and hoping the federal government will send him more. He says the quarantine change at the national level also won’t change much for New Hampshire, but for a different reason than Vermont.

“Anyone can move ash anywhere in the state and that would be legal,” he said.

And it’s been that way for a couple of years. However, Davidson is asking people to follow recommendations about moving wood.

“Right now, only about half of the area of the state has EAB. By getting people to take the steps, not move infested firewood, we can protect the healthy ash for as long as possible,” he said.

Davidson says the EAB invasion of New Hampshire has really exploded. He says three years ago, the ash borer had probably hit about 20% of the state’s ash trees, with about 5% hit really hard. Now, it’s more like 50% of the state’s ash trees and 10% hit severely.

“We have a treatment program where we’re trying to preserve pockets of ash throughout the state, and so we’re working on projects like that. Doing that preserve tree treatments trying to preserve ash in the forest and the genetic stock throughout the state, so we can do some work following the main wave of EAB,” said Davidson.

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