The emerald ash borer has been found in Maine, as long expected. USDA photo

AUGUSTA — State and federal entomologists have confirmed the presence of a destructive, invasive beetle in Maine for the first time.

The emerald ash borer was found in a tree in Madawaska on May 22, just five days after Canadian officials announced the pest’s discovery just across the river in Edmunston, New Brunswick. Although Maine forestry and insect experts long had anticipated that the emerald ash borer would eventually be detected in Maine, many suspected it would first arrive in southern Maine because the emerald-colored insect is already established in neighboring New Hampshire counties.

“I expected to find it. … I did not expect to find it up there,” said Dave Struble, state entomologist with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Struble said that although the Maine infestation has been found in only a few trees so far, it appears to be two- to three-years-old.

“I’d like to think that it did not get out of Madawaska, but it is down by the river and the ice gets in there and moves things around,” he said.

A native of Asia, emerald ash borers have killed millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada since being discovered in 2002 and are regarded as one of the most destructive forest pests in North America.

The small, metallic-looking beetles lay eggs on ash trees and the hatching larvae then tunnel under the trees’ bark, causing extensive damage that typically results in tree death within three to five years. Although there are methods to control the spread of the emerald ash borer, experts have yet to devise a way to eliminate the pests once they are established.

Although accounting for just 4 percent of Maine’s hardwood forest resources, ash trees fill an important cultural and economic niche in Maine. And the borer’s discovery, while anticipated, was nonetheless unwelcome news to some of the craftspeople who rely on the wood.

Ash is used to make baseball bats, snowshoes, furniture, canoe paddles and other products in Maine, and the state’s ash forests have an estimated overall commercial value of $320 million. Maine’s Indian tribes also have used ash for untold generations to weave baskets, for the thwarts and gunwales of birch-bark canoes and in other tribal crafts.

Theresa Secord, a nationally recognized Penobscot Nation basket-weaver who co-founded the Maine Indian Basketmakers Alliance, pointed out that the ash tree plays a central role in the story of the Wabanaki people. According to tribal legends, the hero or “transformer” Gluskabe (also spelled Glooskap or other variations) shot an arrow into an ash tree and out came the Wabanaki people.

Secord said ash is so pliable and versatile that she uses it for the thread to sew together the sweet grass that forms the top of her baskets in addition to the strips that comprise much of the basket. She and other tribal weavers in Maine have worked hard over the past decade-plus to pass along their skills and knowledge to the next generation. As a result, there are more people – and, importantly, more young people – weaving traditional baskets today.

But Secord said it takes 60 years for an ash to grow to a point where its is considered a “basket tree.” And Secord, who recently started shrinking the size of the baskets she produces because of concerns about the future of the resource, said she is worried about whether the trees will be widely available for future generations.

“The beetle is the one thing we can’t control,” Secord said. “As hard as we’ve worked to save our art form – and we did – we are kind of at a loss here.”

Maine has been aggressively monitoring for the emerald ash borer for more than a decade by using specially designed traps, conducting tree surveys and coordinating hundreds of volunteers to monitor for the bug. Maine also prohibits the transportation of untreated firewood into the state to prevent the borer and other invasive pests from hitching a ride into the state.

The emerald ash borer, an invasive Asian beetle, is the most destructive forest pest ever documented in North America, scientists say. Courtesy photo

“Slowing the spread of EAB is crucial,” the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in a statement announcing the beetle’s discovery in Madawaska. “An emerald ash borer generally moves only about one half-mile on its own in a year, but can move hundreds of miles in a single day within a piece of infested firewood.”

While monitoring has been statewide, Struble and other forest health specialists have understandably focused much of their attention on Maine’s border with New Hampshire. Five counties in the Granite State are already under mandatory quarantines to prohibit the movement of ash wood into uninfected areas.

The borer already had spread into areas of Canada, including Quebec, but was not documented in the Atlantic Maritime provinces until this month.

Immediately after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency confirmed the presence of emerald ash borer in Edmunston, the government restricted the movement of all ash materials – including logs, branches, and wood chips – as well as all types of firewood from the area. They also immediately contacted Struble because of the site’s proximity to Maine – located just across the St. John River – and invited department staffers to a meeting on the issue. Within days, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry staff had found a suspected infected tree and sent the bug (still in its pre-pupa stage) to a federal laboratory for confirmation.

Struble said aggressive surveying of the area is ongoing.

The state has activated a multi-agency emergency response plan – which had been finalized less than a month before the bug’s discovery – and plans to release additional information as the field surveys progress.

The emerald green insects also look similar to several other native or well-established insect species. To help with identification, the state has detailed identifying information as well as a chart of look-alike species available at maine.gov/dacf/php/caps/EAB/EABid.shtml.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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