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Forester: Beetle spotted in state

Ash borer larvae put trees in peril by Glen Chase | August 7, 2014 at 2:41 a.m.

The emerald ash borer, an Asian beetle whose larvae feeds on ash trees, has been found for the first time in insect traps in five south Arkansas counties, the state Agriculture Board learned Wednesday.

State Forester Joe Fox said that ash trees make up a small but valuable segment of the state's forests. He said the trees, popular among homeowners as a shade tree, are a commercially harvested hardwood, with Arkansas loggers processing about 9 million board feet of ash every year.

"We've not found anything to stop the bug," Fox told board members. "The solution is not to move the trees."

Darryl Little, director of the Arkansas Plant Board, said his agency is working closely with the Forestry Commission to assess the extent of the borers' presence in Arkansas.

Little said the emerald ash borer, first detected in 2002 in Michigan, has been slowly moving south. When an infestation was detected in Missouri a few years ago, Arkansas began closely monitoring for the wood-boring beetle. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has imposed restrictions on the shipment of "regulated articles," which include raw wood and wood products, in 10 states and parts of 13 others.

Given that there's no treatment available to protect trees, federal officials regulate the movement of raw wood and plants that might transport the borer or its larva, Little said. In Arkansas, that could affect companies ranging from nurseries to loggers.

He said the state is developing its own quarantine plan and regulations to reduce the risk of the borer spreading further when raw wood is moved within the state.

"For the long term, this is going to be a pest that we're just going to have to learn to live with," Little said. "But we want to put off a federal quarantine as long as possible.

Fox said that anyone with an ash tree that appears to be dying from the top down should contact either his agency or the Plant Board to determine if the borer has infested it.

Adult borers are slender and grow up to a half-inch long. They are bronze or golden green with emerald green wing covers. The borer's larvae feed in an ash tree's cambium layer between the bark and wood. This results in galleries that eventually encircle branches and entire trees, killing them.

Clark County was the first county where the borer's presence was confirmed in Arkansas. The infested trees had been dead for some time, Fox said. Traps this year have also detected borers in Nevada, Clark, Columbia and Hot Springs counties. A trap in Howard County is suspected to have turned up a borer, but that hasn't been confirmed. Fox said the state is also investigating reports in White and Garland counties.

"Initially, we'll probably have a bigger impact in residential areas because ash is a popular shade tree," Little said. "But its also a component in our pulp industry."

Fox said Desha and Chicot counties have the highest concentration of ash trees, making up 5 percent of the trees in the state's southern Delta counties. Overall, ash makes up about 1.9 percent of trees in Arkansas that are 5 inches or more in diameter.

"When you find an ash log, it's quite valuable," capable of commanding $80 per ton, Fox said.

Little said the loss of the trees is only part of the problem. He said dealing with restrictions on raw wood shipments will pose headaches for the forest products industry and others.

Terry Walker, assistant director of the Plant Board, said after Wednesday's meeting that the state is in the process of developing emergency rules to ensure that regulated articles, including raw ash wood, aren't transported out of areas subject to quarantine. Ash that has been treated, typically with high heat, or trimmed and dried for use as lumber can be safely shipped.

However, Walker noted that a list of items specific to Arkansas hasn't been developed. For example, in Missouri the list of items regulated for interstate shipment includes wood and wood products capable of hosting the borer, including hardwood firewood, nursery stock, green lumber, waste, compost and ash chips.

Arkansas' rules haven't been finalized, Walker said. A meeting is set for next week between the two agencies, agriculture officials, forest industry representatives and others to develop a draft rule.

If the state doesn't develop a specific plan to identify borer-infested areas, potentially affected wood products and shipment rules, then it risks having the USDA impose a broader statewide quarantine, Walker said.

Business on 08/07/2014

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