By Katy Savage
RUTLAND—Back in the mid-1900s, when Dutch Elm Disease wiped out about 77 million elm trees, Vermont towns started replacing the canopy-like trees that lined streets and public parks with something similar—ash trees.
Now, towns are contemplating how to cut down ash trees with the rise of the emerald ash borer.
The ash borer is a beetle that bores into ash trees and eats tissues beneath the bark, killing the tree. The ash borer was first found in the U.S. near Detroit in 2002. It was discovered in, in the Vermont town of Orange on Feb. 20. A month later, it was detected in three other towns—Barre, Groton, and Plainfield. Two weeks ago, the borer was found in Stamford.
Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program Manager Danielle Fitzko expects it will move across the entire state.
“We’re doing the best to control it,” she said.
Rutland, like other areas, is cutting down its city-owned ash trees in anticipation of the disease.
The city is taking down more than 355 ash trees this year and next year.
“There’s no questions that the clock is ticking,” said Rutland Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg.
While the ash borer hasn’t been detected in Rutland, Wennberg said taking the trees down now is more cost effective than taking them down after they become infected.
It will cost more than $200,000 to remove and replace the trees, Wennberg said. It will cost $91,000 to remove them, $35,000 to remove the stumps and around $150,000 to replace them.
“In general, the trees are all going to die in the next few years so we have to make a decision,” Wennberg said.
Rutland has removed about 30 ash trees so far. Wennberg said the town can take down about 200 trees and will hire a contractor to take down the rest next year.
About 20 percent of the city-owned trees are ash trees.
In native forests, ash trees represent 5-7 percent of the trees. In some communities, ash trees represent 40 to 50 percent of their trees, said Fitzko.
Montpelier has estimated it will cost $750,000 to remove and replace its ash trees over the next 10 years.
Williston has been removing and replanting the trees for the past five years.
Burlington has about 1,275 ash trees. The cost of removing and replanting them is $1,354,688.
The ash borer can fly one to two miles away. The Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program looks for signs of woodpecker activity and abnormal branching patterns in ash trees to detect the borer. If a tree is confirmed to be infected, Fitzko’s team draws a 10-mile boundary around that area—5 miles is confirmed as infected, while another 5 miles is high-risk for infection.
The ash borer has been detected in about 35 other states, including all New England states and New York.
Fitzko has been educating communities on the impacts of the borer. She said many communities will have to take their ash trees down.
“It’s really up to the municipalities to make that decision,” she said.
Wennberg will meet with the Board of Aldermen in the coming weeks about removing the trees.
“The proactive discussion makes a lot of sense,” said Alderman President Sharon Davis.