MONTPELIER — A management plan to control the spread of the emerald ash borer in the Capital City was adopted by the City Council this week.
The plan estimates it will cost more than $1 million over the next 10 years to deal with more than 3,000 trees in the city that will be affected by the invasive Asian beetle.
The city anticipated the threat as early as 2013, when an EAB Preparedness Plan was first drafted. The appearance of the beetle in Orange County a year ago was followed by sightings in Barre, Plainfield, Groton and Montpelier. It set off alarm bells in the state, launching efforts to slow its spread to reduce the costly impact in urban areas and in the forestry and related wood-product manufacturing industry that could be hard-hit by the invasion.
Nationally, tens of millions of trees across 33 states have been lost since the beetle was first detected in Michigan in 2002. Although the beetle can only travel about two miles per year on its own, interstate trucking of infected firewood is believed to be responsible for its rapid spread. The insect does the most damage in its larval form, chewing meandering tunnels through the inner bark of a healthy tree and restricting the flow of water and nutrients. Trees usually die within a year or two, becoming brittle, dangerous and costly to remove.
The beetle was first found in five trees on the National Life campus last June, spurring fears that it would quickly spread to the downtown, Hubbard Park and surrounding neighborhoods without immediate intervention.
“The time for action is now if we are going to manage the infestation rather than allow the infestation to manage us,” stated a report presented to the City Council in September.
The report said surveys have detected 450 ash trees along city streets and an estimated 2,700 trees on private property throughout the city that will be the costly responsibility of homeowners. The report proposed setting up a revolving loan fund for homeowners to borrow money for tree removal, with time to repay the loan.
At this week’s council meeting, John Akielaszek, a member of the Montpelier Tree Board, said it was important to deal with infected trees quickly before they become a liability for both the city and homeowners, who could even see depreciating property values until infected trees are removed.
“The plan calls for the removal of 10 percent of the trees each year,” Akielaszek said. “Eventually, all the ash trees are going to have to come down. When they die, they become very brittle and dangerous and they cost a lot more to remove when they are dead.”
A comprehensive strategy to deal with city trees on streets and public parks includes identifying infected trees that need to be removed first.
Other efforts include treating so-called legacy trees, including 15 trees in the downtown, with insecticides to delay infection until replacement trees can be planted to reduce the impact on the streetscape. Insecticides that are not harmful to honeybees would be injected into the tree to reduce exposure to humans.
The plan also calls for identifying prospective “trap trees” in areas of infestation by girdling trees (removing a ring of bark) — making them attractive to beetles because it is easier to lay eggs — and attaching sticky hormonal traps in other trees that attract beetles.
Trees removed would be taken to a marshaling yard at Gateway Park on Route 2 near the interstate overpass, where infested wood could be processed to remove infected wood. The remaining straight-grain wood would be sold for commercial use, such as flooring. Infected wood would either be sold as firewood or chipped to sell as wood-boiler fuel.
All of the remedial efforts come at a high price.
The first-year estimate comes to $231,100. It includes hiring a full-time Parks staff person, dedicating half their time to the EAB project ($50,000); a portable sawmill to process infected wood ($60,000); a used bucket truck for tree removal ($45,000); creating a revolving loan fund for residents to pay for the cost of tree removal ($25,000); and new tree wells to plant replacement trees ($15,000). The estimate does not include costs for a nursery area to grow replacement trees that would include a watering system and the cost of trees for neighborhood plantings.
After the initial expense, annual costs for the next nine years come to $89,100, for the Parks’ staff salary and benefits; continued treatment of downtown legacy trees (and one near the Old Shelter in Hubbard Park); a contract with the sawmill operator; new tree wells (five each for three years); and new downtown trees (seven each for three years).