Energy & Environment

Welch bill targets emerald ash borer infestation

Montpelier sign warning of possible emerald ash borer infestation. Photo by Jim Welch/VTDigger

A recently introduced bill from Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) seeks to expand federal funding to combat the invasive emerald ash borer beetle.

The Invasive Species Prevention and Forest Restoration Act would create a federal grant program to fund research initiatives on invasive species. It would also increase the federal Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s access to emergency funding, and authorize funding to implement research findings.

In a statement, Welch pointed to the invasive beetle as a threat to forests, which, he said, are “a central part of our economy, our heritage, and our way of life.”

“This initiative will fund efforts to revitalize damaged forests and more swiftly stem future infestations of invasive pests in Vermont and across the country,” he said.

The emerald ash borer was first spotted in Vermont in February 2018. Once it infects an ash tree, the tree has a 99% mortality rate. In the 16 months since the beetle came to Vermont, it has spread to at least eight counties — and according to forest officials, it threatens to wreak havoc on the state’s ash population.

David Schneider, Rutland’s town forester and arborist, said that dying ash trees pose a safety risk to humans, too.

In Rutland, Schneider and his coworkers identified 100 trees “that we have felt would be worthy of keeping.” Those trees will be treated with a preventative pesticide. But because of the cost of treatment — $200 to $250 a tree — Rutland has elected to remove the rest of city’s ash trees.

“Even though it isn’t here yet as far as any confirmed cases go, here in Rutland City, we chose to act preemptively over this past year and starting taking healthy ash trees down,” Schneider said. “Most of that was financial, because once the ash trees die, we cannot have our assistant forester climb them for removal.”

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Schneider said that, while funding like that described in Welch’s bill would be “wisely used,” current interventions may be too little, too late.

“I guess in my opinion, this would’ve been more effective at the start of 10 years,” Schneider said. “The bug is here.”

But Schneider also noted that outreach programs have helped Vermont make strides toward containing the infestation — a point that Chittenden County forester Ethan Tapper agreed with.

“We know that forests are really complex living systems, and to keep them healthy, knowledge is power,” Tapper said. “What might be positive about [the infestation] is that it’ll help us think about how to keep our forests healthy, and how important each of our tree species is.”

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Iris Lewis

About Iris

Iris Lewis is a summer 2019 intern at VTDigger. She is a rising junior at Harvard University, where she writes for the student newspaper, the Crimson. She is originally from Underhill, Vermont.

Email: [email protected]

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