Tuesday April 9, 2013

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire officials announced an emergency quarantine Monday for Merrimack County, hoping to slow the spread of an invasive beetle responsible for killing millions of ash trees nationwide.

The quarantine comes after federal authorities confirmed that emerald ash borers infected a tree found in Concord on March 28.

Nathan Siegert of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service said that if left unchecked, the insect borer could devastate New Hampshire’s 25 million forest ash trees within five to 10 years.

The ash borer is often spread by people transporting firewood, and much of the outreach nationally has focused on a "Don’t Move Firewood" campaign. New Hampshire has had a ban on bringing uncertified firewood into the state since 2011.

The quarantine went into effect immediately, officials with the state Department of Resources and Economic Development and the state Department of Agriculture said.

Ash products and material can move freely within Merrimack County but cannot leave the county unless sufficiently treated and inspected by forestry officials.

Regulated material from outside Merrimack County may be transported through the county as long as it’s safeguarded and accompanied with documentation listing point-of-origin and destination.

The quarantine materials include all hardwood firewood, woodchips that contain ash, all species of ash, nursery stock, green lumber, logs and any other ash material living or dead.

Violations could result in fines or other penalties.

The invasive pest, originally from China, was first discovered in the U.S. in Michigan in 2002, and has since spread to 19 states with New Hampshire being the most recent. Last year, the ash borer was discovered in Connecticut and Western Massachusetts.

"We have been monitoring the emerald ash borer’s eastward march and preparing for its arrival here," Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill told reporters Monday. "The arrival of this destructive invasive pest will have consequences for firewood, timber and wood products industry and for our nursery and landscape industry," Merrill said.

Ash makes up about 6 percent of New Hampshire’s hardwood forests. The trees also are ecologically important to forest health.

The state will hold meetings for public comment during a 30-day period, after which the quarantine may be changed. Also, a multi-agency survey will be conducted in the Concord-area to help determine the extent of the beetle’s presence. The initial survey will take four to six weeks.

In addition, property owners who have ash trees are urged to explore their options when deciding whether to use pesticides or remove the trees. And those with trees showing signs of poor health are asked to call a state hotline at 1-800-444-8978.