A beetle that can quickly kill ash trees has been found at the Arnold Arboretum, state park and agriculture officials said Wednesday, arriving in Boston just two years after it was first spotted in Massachusetts, in the Berkshires.
Staff at the arborteum saw the emerald ash borer, a small, metallic-green beetle native to Asia, in a treetop trap on July 16, and confirmed its identity two days later.
The discovery was expected, and state officials said the ash borer is probably burrowing into trees across the state. The invasive insect cannot cover much ground on its own, but Ken Gooch, forest health program director for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said the movement of firewood expedites the beetle’s spread across the state and country.
“People are what is moving this insect so fast,” Gooch said. “The insect wouldn’t move so fast on its own.”
His agency and the Department of Agricultural Resources said they will strengthen enforcement of a ban that restricts the transport of wood in and out of Berkshire and Essex counties, the two places where the insect had previously been found.
“It’s a concern for us and a concern in terms of our state forests,” said Gooch. “We’re asking people not to move any ash products — don’t move it anywhere in the state. Buy firewood local, burn it local.”
Massachusetts has about 45 million ash trees, or about 3 percent of its total tree population. The ash borer was first seen in the United States in Michigan in 2002, and has since destroyed millions of ash trees across 23 states. The estimated cost of treating, removing, and replacing trees runs into the billions of dollars. The insect cannot be eradicated because of its prevalence, so officials are focused on slowing its spread. The state has numerous purple panel traps in the tops of ash trees to catch the beetles. An intern at the arboretum identified the beetle while collecting traps with head arborists, said Andrew Gapinski, the arboretum’s manager of horticulture.
“It’s something we’ve been expecting. It just happened to be this year it finally got to us,” he said. “It’s so abundant in the environment at this point.”
The beetles, which mainly reside in treetops, invade beneath the bark and interfere with a tree’s circulatory system, killing it in three to five years.
State park and agriculture officials plan to look for signs of the beetle statewide, in part by looking for woodpeckers that peel the bark off and eat the beetles’ larvae. Officials also hope to deploy two species of wasp that feed on it.
The state is working with the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to stop the beetle’s spread. Other measures include ensuring that residents know how to treat or get rid of infested trees and materials, and maintaining a statewide ban on bringing firewood into parks and forests.
In May, federal and state conservation officials said they had eradicated from Boston another invasive insect that destroys trees, the Asian longhorned beetle. At that time, they lifted an earlier ban that prevented moving wood in and out of a 10-square-mile area across Boston and Brookline.
The Department of Conservation and Recreation plans to hold public meetings in Suffolk County to teach residents how to identify trees that are infected with ash borers.
“Eventually, when the trees die, it becomes a hazard,” Gooch said, noting that removing trees and using pesticide treatments can cost thousands of dollars to homeowners and municipalities. “Cities and towns are already strapped for money, and this just adds an additional cost.”
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