BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts officials said Thursday that they've ordered a quarantine on certain wood in the state's westernmost county to help contain an invasive beetle that's killed millions of ash trees nationwide.
Beginning March 1, no hardwood firewood, ash nursery stock or untreated ash lumber will be allowed outside Berkshire County, where the emerald ash borer was found last summer in trees in Dalton, a few miles from the New York border.
The discovery made Massachusetts the 18th state where the Asian beetle has appeared since it was detected in Michigan in 2002. Berkshire County also borders Connecticut, where the borer has been found, and Vermont, where it has not.
After hosting public hearings, Massachusetts settled on the county-wide quarantine, amid opposing pressure for restrictions in a smaller area and advocacy for a statewide quarantine zone.
Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Ed Lambert said allowing Berkshire County wood to be shipped statewide would have made the beetle far more difficult to contain.
"That certainly might have minimized the impact on the industry but, in our opinion, it would have allowed much quicker spread in parts of the state," he said.
Violating the quarantine can come with fines as high as $25,000. Officials are also hoping to educate people not to transport firewood to other counties, a common method of spreading the beetle.
Ash trees are about 4 percent of the state's forests, and 80 percent of the state's 45 million ash trees are found west of the Connecticut River. Ash is used in a variety of products, including baseball bats, railroad ties, and flooring.
The economic impact of the quarantine is hard to determine, but state officials are concerned, Lambert said. The state's wood industry is worth about $500 million annually, with ash accounting for less than 20 percent of that. The firewood segment of the industry is worth $100 million, but it's not confined to Berkshire County.
Lambert said businesses can still transport wood to mills in New York, which has emerald ash borer quarantines in counties that border Berkshire County. Wood can move between quarantined counties without restriction.
Firewood over 4-feet long can also move outside the zone because at that length the ash is easy to recognize and remove, Lambert said.
The emerald ash borer is metallic green and eats only ash trees, with the larvae feeding just below the bark and adults eating the leaves. Once the beetles hit a tree, it's as good as dead within five years.
The bug reached New York in 2009 and Connecticut last summer. It has yet to reach the other New England states, but forestry officials say that's inevitable.
In Massachusetts, surveying found five infested trees within a two-mile radius of where the beetle turned up in Dalton. That might indicate the infestation is isolated, but federal officials are hesitant to endorse quarantines in areas smaller than a county, said Nate Seigert, a U.S. Forest Service entomologist.
"Back in the Midwest when they had this, they had a lot of experience with smaller quarantines and (the infestation) was bigger than what they had anticipated," he said.
Officials are planning future beetle surveys and will try to limit the infestation with "girdling," in which thick strips of bark are removed from around infested ash trees. The stress on the trees causes them to emit a chemical that draws the beetle, hopefully clustering the insects in an area and making it easier to destroy their eggs before they become adults.