PROSPECT — A destructive insect, found in Prospect and Naugatuck, could spell doom for ash trees throughout the state.
The emerald ash borer, which bores into and kills ash trees, has been spotted around Prospect and Naugatuck, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The beetles were found in an ash tree near the Algonquin Elementary School annex in Prospect. The beetles have also infested a portion of the Naugatuck State Forest in the vicinity of 181 Hunters Mountain Road, Naugatuck, according to DEEP officials.
The beetle, which is native to Asia, was first discovered in the U.S. in 2002 in Detroit, Mich. The infestations in Prospect and Naugatuck mark the first time the beetle has been seen in the state. Connecticut is now one of 16 states to report an infestation.
“This is not very good news for Connecticut. We have an invasive species,” said DEEP Commissioner Daniel Esty during a press conference held Friday afternoon at Prospect Town Hall.
Prior to the discovery of the beetles in Prospect and Naugatuck, the closet they had come to the state was in eastern New York near the Hudson River. Due to Dutchess County having an infestation, state officials had assumed the beetles would first be found in Litchfield County.
“It is a surprise, to first find this beetle in the center of the state as opposed to along our New York border,” Esty said.
The infestation could be especially devastating to Connecticut since, according to the DEEP, ash trees make up about 15 percent of the trees found in the forest and are used commonly in urban settings.
“It is a risk to the 20 million plus ash trees in the state of Connecticut,” Esty said. “Across the country there have already been tens of millions of ash trees that have been killed as a result of this infestation.”
The eastern ash borer is approximately 1/2 inch long and 1/8 inch wide and metallic green in color. The beetle lays eggs under the bark of an ash tree and, during the winter, the larvae begin to eat through the tree, killing it. Adults emerge from the bark of infested trees leaving a small “D”-shaped exit hole roughly 1/8 inch in diameter.
A healthy ash tree with a small infestation could live up to five years while a tree that is already distressed could be dead in one season, State Forester Christopher Martin explained.
Esty went on to explain that the most important thing now is to prevent the spread of this beetle. Esty said the movement of firewood, which could contain living beetles, out of New Haven County is soon going to be banned.
“Some time ago we put a ban on out of state firewood being brought into our state parks, which is a common place for that to be burned. Today we are taking a number of additional steps. A quarantine zone that will prohibit the movement of wood products out of New Haven County, where this emerald ash borer has been detected, will be implemented at the earliest possible time,” Esty said.
A ban on firewood being brought into the state from New York and Massachusetts, unless properly certified, will also be put into place. Gov. Dannel Malloy authorized the implementations of these bans by emergency regulation.
“The detection of the emerald ash borer in Prospect and in Naugatuck reaffirms that statewide surveys for this pest were necessary,” said Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Director Louis Magnarelli in a press release. “Our immediate goals are to determine how extensive the Connecticut infestation is, notify residents in the Prospect and Naugatuck area, and implement strategies to slow the spread of the insect.”
State officials discovered the presence of the beetle in Connecticut due to wasps.
During the press conference, Magnarelli explained there is a wasp, known as the smoky-winged beetle bandit, which is a predator of these beetles. The wasps, which make their home in sandy soil, were found on the baseball field in Canfield Park.
“This wasp goes out and collects beetle as prey and brings them back to the nest to feed the larvae down in the ground. One day we discovered that these solitary wasps were bringing back emerald ash borers,” Magnarelli said.
According to the DEEP, these wasps provide a highly efficient and effective “bio-surveillance” survey tool and do not sting people or pets.
A second way of catching and identifying the eastern ash borer is with a purple prism trap, commonly referred to as a Barney trap. Currently there are 541 Barney traps that have been set across all eight counties in the state. The traps are only meant for detection purposes, they will not prevent an infestation.
Dr. Kirby Stafford, vice director and state entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, explained there is no way to get rid of the eastern ash borer once a state is infested with them. Currently, all quarantines and restrictions are only meant to slow the spread of the beetle.
The country’s ash trees are under a sever threat, Stafford said.