State agriculture officials announced plans Friday to begin restricting the movement of firewood and ash trees in parts of Cumberland County in response to the discovery of a highly destructive invasive insect in Portland.

The emerald ash borer

A single emerald ash borer beetle was recently discovered in a trap in Portland, suggesting that one of the most destructive invasive insects in the country has potentially moved into Maine’s largest city. While an initial survey did not turn up any additional beetles, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said Friday that the Maine Forest Service will issue a quarantine or “stop movement order” for the city and towns within a 10-mile buffer around the city to slow the potential spread of the borer.

The quarantine will prohibit movement of most ash trees, ash wood and hardwood firewood outside of Portland and the following communities: Cape Elizabeth, Chebeague Island, Cumberland, Falmouth, Gorham, Long Island, North Yarmouth, Portland, Scarborough, South Portland, Westbrook, Windham and Yarmouth.

There are exceptions to the quarantine, such as for firewood that has been heat-treated to kill insects. But the movement of most materials outside of the quarantine area will require a compliance agreement with state or federal agencies.

A similar quarantine was imposed on all of York County and parts of Aroostook County this year in response to the discovery of small infestations of emerald ash borers in those areas.

Staff from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry and the city will be available to answer questions about the borer and the quarantine beginning at 1 p.m. on Monday at Payson Park near the corner of Fernald Street and Payson Park Roadway in Portland. Additional information on the emerald ash borer is available at www.maine.gov/eab.

A native of Asia, the emerald ash borer has killed tens of millions of ash trees in the U.S. and Canada since being discovered in 2002 and is regarded as one of the most destructive forest pests in North America. The small, green-metallic beetles (measuring about one-half inch) 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, such as through destruction of infested trees and insecticide treatment for others, experts have yet to devise a way to eliminate the pests once they are established.

Ash trees comprise a small portion of Maine’s forest canopy but are planted as ornamental trees in many downtown or suburban neighborhoods. The species also fills important economic and cultural niches in Maine as wood from the trees are used to make furniture, musical instruments, snowshoes, baseball bats and the baskets weaved by some Indian tribes in Maine.

Ash trees have an estimated overall commercial value of $320 million in Maine.

Portland, which is known as “Forest City,” has roughly 600 ash trees planted on city streets and in parks.

“There are also many native ash trees in the forests and pockets of woods that skirt the city, especially along waterways such as the Presumpscot River,” the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry said in a news release on Friday. “The city plans to monitor for expansion of the infestation with the Maine DACF and local conservation groups and will prioritize treatment and removal of infested ash.”

The ash borer’s eventual arrival in Maine was widely regarded as inevitable because the insects are well-established just across the border in parts of New Hampshire as well as in other parts of New England. Adult emerald ash borer beetles can only fly about one-half mile, so entomologists say most new infestations far from existing hotspots are caused by people inadvertently moving trees or firewood containing the beetles or larvae.

 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.