Harmony ash trees threatened


BRATTLEBORO -- There are an estimated 160 million ash trees in Vermont and perhaps none in the southern part of the state have as high a profile as the 10 trees that tower over the Harmony Parking Lot in downtown Brattleboro.

The ash trees in the Harmony Lot define the parking line that runs the length of the lot and the trees supply welcomed shade during the summer and fall color during foliage.

But those trees, along with every other ash tree in Vermont, are threatened by the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has destroyed ash trees across the country.

So on Sunday two Windham County members of the Vermont Forest Pest First Detector Program were in the Harmony Lot, putting up posters on the trees and trying to raise awareness about the potential damage the emerald ash borer could bring to ash trees across the state.

"This insect has been found in Concord, New Hampshire, and in Worcester, so we're surrounded," said Bob Everingham, one of the volunteers who came out Sunday morning. "It's only a matter of time before the are here."

The emerald ash borer is a small, green, beetle that was first detected in North America near Detroit, Mich., in 2002.

Experts think the insect came across the ocean in cargo ships or airplanes from its native home in Asia.

The larvae feed in the cambium between the bark and wood, and there have been millions of trees destroyed across the United States

The emerald ash borer has been slowly spreading across the country.

In 2012 infestations were detected in Massachusetts and Connecticut, and the following year the insects were discovered in New Hampshire.

The emerald ash borer has also been found in the Hudson Valley in New York and in Carignan, Quebec, so Vermont is surrounded, and Everingham said it is inevitable that it will one day find its way to Vermont, and in turn, the Harmony Parking Lot.

"It's hard to imagine this parking lot without these trees," he said. "There are aesthetic impacts, and environmental impacts. We're kind of up a creek."

Everingham was in the Harmony Lot Sunday, along with Bob DeSiervo of Townshend, as the Vermont Department of Forest, Parks and Recreation highlight the importance of ash trees during Ash Tree Awareness Week, which runs from April 27 to May 3.

The posters were gently tied to the trees Sunday to help raise awareness about the threat, but also to encourage anyone who walks through the Harmony Lot to learn more about the emerald ash borer, and to learn how to recognize signs of the damage they do to the trees.

The most obvious signs that trees are infested are small D-shaped holes in the bark, and S-shaped lines under the bark that show where the insects have bored their way through the wood.

A more heavily infested tree will show crown die back, vertical splits in the bark, and signs of heavy woodpecker activity.

Everingham said the Brattleboro Tree Committee is planning to come before the Selectboard in the coming months with a plan to try to address the threat and save the Harmony Lot trees.

But with all of the challenges facing Brattleboro's fiscal future, he knows it might be a hard sell.

Treating trees will cost money, but it can also get expensive to remove them, and he says, over time municipalities have found that it makes more sense to be aggressive and proactive in confronting the threat.

There are a few experiments being tried to protect trees, but most of the resources are being put into preventing the spread.

Everingham said the tree committee was still coming up with its plan, which will be presented to the Selectboard in the near future.

"It's going to effect us and there are no real good solutions," he said. "

We know the town doesn't have the money. The feds don't have money, and the state doesn't have money. Hopefully we can try to explain the scope of the problem and come up with something."

For more information go to www.vtinvasives.org.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or hwtisman@reformer.com. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.


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