DOT’S BEAT: Treasure Your Trees, Protect the Endangered Ash, and Celebrate TreeCity

by Dot Helling

Earlier this spring I was alarmed to learn that the presence of the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) had been verified in the nearby towns of Plainfield, Barre, Groton and Orange, as I have 11 white ash trees on my small residential property in downtown Montpelier. Surveillance teams have been studying the path of the EAB for years, especially concerned with it being transported in firewood from other areas.  The entire state of Massachusetts is under an EAB quarantine, meaning no ash tree wood can be transported out of the area without approval from Federal and State authorities.

I remember well the plight of our elm trees when Dutch Elm Disease came to Vermont.  Throughout Vermont, elms lined our streets and encircled our town greens. Montpelier’s Elm Street, aptly named, was lined and canopied by those stately elms.  Today the only notable elm in our downtown is the magnificent and stately one on Court Street, estimated to be 150 years old.  As members of the Montpelier Tree Board have recited, the Court Street elm has been a witness to 150 legislative sessions and Montpelier High School graduations.  Imagine all that our aged trees have witnessed over the years. More of our elms might have survived had the funds been available to fully fund the effort to save them and replant.

This month Montpelier is celebrating TreeCity, an event designed to focus on our treasured trees. If you have any concerns about EAB, and you should, this is a good time to learn about the bug and how to minimize and combat its threat. The EAB is an emerald green metallic beetle that fits on a penny. If left to its own devices it will multiply quickly, girdle an ash tree, and eventually kill it. 

The TreeCity celebration includes a photo exhibit and educational materials at the Kellogg Hubbard Library, posters with tree photos and facts around town, an Arbor Day conference sponsored by the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program, the planting of diverse, municipal trees throughout the downtown on Arbor Day, plus celebratory activities as part of Green Up Day, All Species Day and Mother’s Day. 

In the meantime, think about what you can do to combat and wage war against the EAB.  First and foremost, learn to identify Montpelier’s thousands of white, green and black ash. These are the ones susceptible to the EAB. Once you can identify the ash trees in your yard and neighborhood, become vigilant and watch them for signs of the EAB. Some ash trees, like that elm on Court Street, are resilient and can survive attacks to their existence.

So what do you look for?  First look for woodpecker holes.  If you see multiple holes up and down the side of an ash about the size of a half dollar, woodpeckers are likely to be pecking for EAB larvae. Amazingly they can actually hear the beetle larvae “munching” and will hone in on them. These holes are an early sign of the existence of the EAB. Otherwise EAB bark damage is hardly noticeable compared to the damage inflicted by woodpeckers and squirrels. Borer damage may not be noticed for 4–5 years after the tree has been compromised. 

Other early signs include the existence of epicormic shoots, shoots that come out of the trunk at the base or towards the bottom of the tree, and also any thinning of the tree’s canopy.  Here you may notice dead branches whose circulation has been cut off by the EAB. Absent bird and animal damage the thinning canopy is the primary indicator of the borer girdling process, indicating that many larvae are present.  Any of these signs should be reported to Montpelier’s first detectors: John Snell at jrsnelljr@gmail.com and John Akielaszek at habfan43@yahoo.com. 

The key to the EAB threat is vigilance and reporting what you see.  The movement of the EAB has already slowed dramatically because of awareness and a change in practices such as not transporting firewood from outside areas to campsites.  The longer we stall the EAB, the further ongoing experiments and research moves us towards identifying ways to combat the EAB and find biological controls.

Montpelier has an EAB Preparedness Plan. You can view it on the city’s website at montpelier-vt.org/495/Tree-Board. Learn about the Vermont firewood rule at fpr.vermont.gov/firewood and get your county forester contact at fpr.vermont.gov. Become a Vermont Covert and educate others via vtcoverts.org, or become a first detector in your community, vtinvasives.org. At the very least you can be watchful and report immediately when you see any suspected signs of the EAB.  Montpelier is a high risk “red zone” for EAB.  May and June are key months. Let’s put the community on alert now, and the next time you stand in your yard under an ash or other stately tree, embrace and treasure it as a family and community member.

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