By MADELINE HUGHES
At the end of July, state officials confirmed that the emerald ash borer, an invasive species from Asia, was found in Bennington County, the fourth Vermont county where the tree-killing insect has been found since February.
“Once infested, ash trees rapidly decline and are killed in 3-5 years,” according to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. The pest is known to be established in 35 states and four Canadian provinces, and is responsible for widespread decline and mortality of hundreds of millions of ash trees in North America, the agency warned.
Ash borers are confirmed to be in Orange, Caledonia and Washington counties in Vermont as well.
With that in mind, tree officials in Shelburne are taking action now to prepare for the ash borer’s arrival in Chittenden County.
Ash trees account for a small portion of trees in Vermont forests, and are more popular in urban areas.
State and federal officials tracking the spread of ash borers explain that the insect’s larvae kill ash trees “by tunneling under the bark and feeding on the part of the tree that moves water and sugars up and down the trunk.” The pest was first discovered in North America in the Detroit area in 2002, and over the past 16 years, it has decimated ash populations.
Keen-eyed observers may have noticed the purple detection traps around the state that have been erected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help determine where the insects have moved.
Meanwhile in Shelburne, a 2014 Shelburne Public Tree Inventory Report, by Land Stewardship and the Vermont Urban & Community Forestry Program, notes that just over 9 percent of Shelburne’s public trees are ash trees.
A handful of those ash trees are by Pierson Library. And as the town’s project to rebuild the library and make improvements to the municipal campus, considerations are being made to take care of the health of the town’s trees.
Shelburne’s Tree Warden, David Hall, held a public hearing on July 27 to talk about what trees needed to be replaced as part of the library and town center construction project.
Five ash trees near the driveway into the municipal campus will be removed. Another four ash trees next to the Fire Department will also be taken down, Hall said.
Those trees were chosen for removal because the construction activity so close to the trees will “adversely impact them, and make them more susceptible to emerald ash borer,” Hall said.
A few other trees including a redbud, a crimson king maple, and a few blue spruces also will be removed because of potential harm from the construction project.
The construction project includes a landscape plan that calls for plantings once the building work is complete. Going forward, the “approved landscape plan has more screening going in that will be healthier,” Hall explained.
No plantings will be added until the construction is complete early next summer. The Tree Advisory Committee has asked to have input into that process regarding the types and number of trees to be planted.
In addition to looking at trees at the municipal campus, the Tree Advisory Committee is also putting together a management plan to address other ash trees on town property.
Hall’s advice to homeowners regarding the inevitable ash borer arrival: “For ash trees that aren’t doing well, it’s probably best to remove them sooner than later. The weakest get attacked first, so remove the weakest trees first to prevent spreading,” Hall said. Once infested and damaged, he explained, “the trees will be brittle and dangerous, then it turns into a project best not done by a homeowner.”