The View from Faraway Farm: Changed forever by an invasive species


My small hillside Vermont property got hit very hard by an invasive species. I purchased the property around 2000. The invasive species quietly arrived in the U.S. in Michigan in 2002, and by September of 2019 my friend Paul and I were cutting down the next to the last of about 11 dead ash trees. The trees on my property were mostly planted there on purpose to delineate a property line. Now the stumps do that duty.

My now-deceased neighbor was a forester and the retired commissioner of Natural Resources for the State of Minnesota. He was also a Springfield, Vermont native and a great guy. He was the one who informed me that my ash trees were being girdled by the Asian Emerald Ash Borer. That was the bad news. The only good news is that you can burn ash just as soon as you cut and split it. Also on the good side, several of those trees provided heat for one of my neighbors. The last two trees that need to be cut I have claimed for myself and my own heating needs.

My friend Paul who is a far more physical guy than me volunteered to drive up from Granby, Conn., with his wood splitter and his two Stihl chainsaws to do the honors, at least on one of the trees. Paul is not from Connecticut, he is a New Yorker in possession of many esoteric skills. One of which is being a certified motorcycle safety foundation riding instructor. He also wields a mean chainsaw. Paul and his lovely wife will eventually move to Vermont because they get it like natives. In the meantime, he comes up here to extend his practice of being a good neighbor and to keep me in line.

Paul burns 7 or 8 cords of wood in his 1700s former Connecticut Inn, so organizing how and where he cuts a tree is a big part of the job. Having been a project manager on massive construction jobs, his approach is all about the ease of getting materials and equipment where they need to go so the job gets done. By the time he had to leave for an event in New York we had the entire tree down, cut, split, and in piles where they needed to be for the next phase of the project. All done by two older guys, one of them (me) practically useless after decades of being out of shape.

However, this evening when the temperature at 860 feet above sea level dropped to 41 degrees, I piled some of those freshly split pieces of ash kindling in my Woodstock Soapstone stove along with some cardboard boxes all torn up into small pieces and started a nice little fire. The warmth of those glowing orange and yellow flames with the cherry coals are keeping the house perfectly warm against the early fall temps. It's a satisfying feeling.

What isn't so nice is the fact that an invasive species traveled from central China in 2002, established itself in Michigan, and spread at a rate of about 50 miles per year (sometimes more depending on where the bugs hid out in packaging materials) to cause people in northern New England to cut down millions of ash trees left in this Emerald bug's devastating wake. By the time that the Emerald Ash Borer is done in North America, it will have destroyed about 11 billion trees, changing the soil composition where it has been, and leaving our landscape that much different in appearance.

I understand that some resistant species are being propagated with grafting techniques from ash species in Asia that ultimately developed hardiness in regards to the Ash Borer. Because ash trees grow quickly, are used in landscaping projects and provide a useful type of wood, it seems worthwhile to create hardy variations. However, it was a costly exercise that changed the landscape. I'm sad to have lost my 11 ash trees but we made the best of a negative situation by turning those trees into British Thermal Units of energy for winter heat, with sincere apologies to Greta Thunberg and future generations for the carbon use.

Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.



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