Forests threatened by invasive insects

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(Host) Vermont’s forests are threatened by three insects that could devastate stands of many tree species, including the state’s trademark sugar maple.

Officials hope to keep timber and firewood out of the state that could be harboring the tiny bugs.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has this report.

(Sneyd) On all sides, Vermont is surrounded by states that already have been infested by tiny insects that literally eat trees to death.

From New Hampshire, there’s the hemlock woolly adelgid. They’ve already been found in Vermont.

The Asian longhorned beetle has infested 18 square miles in central Massachusetts.

New York is trying to hold off emerald ash bore. Just this summer that insect was found 40 miles north of Vermont’s border with Quebec.

(Turmel) “So, yeah, we’re right in the middle and we’re pretty nervous about it.”

(Sneyd) State entomologist Jon Turmel is out in the field surveying Christmas tree lots for pests.

The Christmas trees look OK. But the state’s hardwoods could be in danger.

(Turmel) "I’ve been at it over 30 years and I can’t emphasize that enough, that this is a real threat, that people should just buy their firewood locally, especially campers. These are the ones – the tree dies in the backyard. Well, you’re gonna chop it up and bring it to the campground when you come to visit. Please. Don’t do that. It’s emphatic. I can’t emphasize it enough. Leave your firewood at home. Please.”

(Sneyd) Small insects can survive in firewood. When they reach maturity, they emerge and go in search of a live tree to infest.

The federal government has become concerned enough that it’s placed a quarantine on all firewood that enters the country from Canada.

The quarantine says that before any firewood enters the U.S. from the north, it has to be heated to 160 degrees for an hour and 15 minutes.

Vermont State Forester Steve Sinclair welcomes the concern. He just worries whether it’ll work.

(Sinclair) "Like any rule or regulation it’s only as good as the enforcement that goes along with it. And that was one of the concerns that we had in terms of trying to enact some kind of a quarantine in Vermont, was how were we going to go about regulating it.”

(Sneyd) For now, Vermont wants to educate people about the threat and monitor wood lots for signs of the destructive insects.

Sinclair says homeowners should watch out for unusual damage to their trees, especially exit holes the size of a pencil eraser. Forest and Parks would like to hear about the damage.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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